"Mama Africa" Miriam Makeba dies after concert

Mon Nov 10, 2008 6:05pm EST
 
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By Serena Chaudhry

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African singer Miriam Makeba, one of Africa's best known voices and a champion of the fight against apartheid during three decades in exile, has died of a heart attack after a concert in Italy. She was 76.

Known as "Mama Africa" and the "Empress of African Song," Makeba was the first black South African musician to gain international fame, winning renown in the 1950s for her sweeping vocals. She was loathed by South Africa's white minority rulers.

Former South African President and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela paid homage to the singer, calling her "South Africa's first lady of song" and saying her music inspired hope.

"Despite her tremendous sacrifice and the pain she felt to leave behind her beloved family and her country when she went into exile, she continued to make us proud as she used her worldwide fame to focus attention on the abomination of apartheid," Mandela said in a letter released by his foundation.

"It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others -- and again in support of a good cause."

Makeba fell ill after a concert against organized crime in the southern Italian town of Baia Verde late Sunday, her publicist said. She died after being rushed to a clinic in the town of Castel Volturno.

"It was from a heart attack, but she had not been well for some time," publicist Mark Lechat told Reuters. He said Makeba had also been suffering from arthritis.

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<p>South African singer Miriam Makeba performs during a concert in Castel Volturno, south of Italy, November 9, 2008. REUTERS/AGN</p>