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Published on Aug 25, 2011
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer distilled from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute' in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.
Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single for "Pata Pata". The single was played on all the radio stations and made her known throughout all of South Africa. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to leave home