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In this Nov. 16, 2006 AP file photo South African singer Miriam Makeba performs on stage at the Avo Session in Basel, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Keystone/Georgios Kefalas)
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer who wooed the world with her sultry voice but was banned from her own country for 30 years under apartheid, died early Monday after a concert in Italy. She was 76.
Often referred to as “The Empress of African Song” and later as “Mama Afrika”, Makeba's career began her singing career in Sophiatown, a cosmopolitan neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, that was a cultural hotspot in the 1950s before its black residents were forcibly removed by the apartheid government.
After she teamed up with fellow South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela — later her first husband — her rise to international prominence started when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary "Come Back, Africa" in 1959.
When she tried to fly home for her mother's funeral the following year, she discovered her passport had been revoked. It was 30 years before she was allowed to return home. In 1963, after appearing before the U.N. Special Committee on Apartheid, and South Africa immediately banned the sale of her records. Her music fell further out of favor after she married black activist Stokley Carmichael and eventually moved to Guinea.
After three decades abroad, Makeba was invited back to South Africa by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison in 1990 as white racist rule crumbled.
Makeba announced her retirement three years ago, but despite a series of farewell concerts she never stopped performing. When she turned 75 last year, she said she would sing for as long as possible.
She was a woman of courage and distinction, a recording artist and writer who brought the evils of apartheid to the world view and will always be revered for her music and sense of humor.