March 4th, 2013

NWHM, March 4th, 2013: Miriam Makeba

It is rare that Google decides to dedicate it’s “Google Doodle” to a woman.  Oh, let’s be honest, it’s rarer when it’s really anyone of colour, but women of colour are the rarest of individuals to be celebrated on Google’s “Doodle”.  That’s why I was shocked to find this, this morning: 

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Google has decided to celebrate musician and activist, Miriam Makeba’s 81st birthday, or what would have been her 81st birthday if she hadn’t died a few short years ago from a heart attack. 

Born in Johannesburg, Miriam is responsible for being the first artist from Africa to popularize African style throughout the world, which she began doing through work with the Manhattan Brothers, moving to her all female group, the Skylarks, and finally releasing her song, “Pata, Pata,” which made her famous throughout South Africa.  

Three years later, she would make her big break in an anti-apartheid documentary called, “Come Back, Africa”, in which she had a small cameo and it is through her work that she was able to first travel to Italy, for the documentary’s premiere, and then onto the United States and into London. 

It wouldn’t be until she attempted to return to South Africa that she learned that her passport had been revoked, and after speaking out and testifying at the United Nations about apartheid, her South African citizenship and the right to return to her country were completely revoked.  (Many countries would come to her aid, issuing her International passports and granting her honorary citizenship, making her one of the few people that can truly claim to be a “citizen of the world”.) 

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Miriam would be a stranger to her native country until 1990, when she returned after Nelson Mandela was freed, though she would tour through Africa prior to that return.  In the interim, she led a fascinating and controversial life, from performing with Harry Belafonte to having her tours and record deals cancelled because she married Stokely Carmichael, whom she would separate from five years later and divorce within ten.   

Throughout her life, Miriam brought Africa to the world, through her music and became an active voice for injustice, not just regarding apartheid, but bringing her celebrity and her strength of character to a number of causes she championed. 

She is a woman to be admired, and, if it takes a Google Doodle to bring her to more prominence, well, it’s one of the better things the company has done in a long time. 

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On a Kennedy note, since everyone kind of knows of my adoration for the “family”: Miriam performed with Harry Belafonte at JFK’s 1962 birthday party that took place at Madison Square Garden.  (Yes, the one in which Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to him.)  She decined to attend the after party, due to illness, but President Kennedy insisted on meeting her, so Harry Belafonte sent a car for her, and she did, in fact, meet President Kennedy.

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