Miriam Makeba, the legendary South African singer known affectionately as "Mama Africa," died Sunday during a benefit concert in Italy. According to Agence France-Presse, the 76-year-old singer was performing for a crowd of around 1,000 for a half hour before collapsing on stage.
"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house. Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor," according to an AFP photographer who covered the event. Makeba received treatment while the audience shouted for encores, but died in the hospital as a result of a heart attack. The singer was the headlining act in a concert in support of author Roberto Saviano, who has received death threats from the Italian mafia for "Gomorrah," his book about the underground crime family.
Makeba became the musical embodiment of black South Africans' struggle against the racist apartheid regime, as well as an international music star thanks to such hits as "Pata Pata" and "The Click Song." Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on March 4, 1932, Makeba became the nation's musical ambassador during the period when future South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his fight against the apartheid government. Her South African citizenship was revoked in 1960, forcing Makeba into a three-decade exile during which she lived in the U.S., Guinea and Europe and was even denied permission to return to her home for her mother's funeral.
Among those paying tribute to Makeba was anti-apartheid leader Mandela, who said, "She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of 'Mama Africa.' She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours."
While Makeba's music was outlawed in her former homeland, she achieved international success and won a Grammy award for Best Folk Recording along with Harry Belafonte in 1965 for the album An Evening With Belafonte/ Makeba. The award came five years after Makeba's citizenship was revoked due to her appearance in the 1959 anti-apartheid film, "Come Back, Africa." Among her five marriages was a controversial one to Black Panthers leader and civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, and one to famed trumpeter and fellow South African exile Hugh Masekela.
Makeba made another splash on the international scene in 1987, when she performed with Paul Simon on his "Graceland" tour in a show in Zimbabwe, which neighbors South Africa.