Miriam Makeba & I

How One Remarkable Woman Inspired a Shy Little Girl

Mariam & I

Miriam Makeba was a South African singer, songwriter, activist, and actress amongst other things.

Her given name was Zenzile Miriam Makeba, born on the 4th of March, 1932. The name “Zenzile” signifies that even from birth she was a fighter and a miracle baby, pushed through the perils of a difficult pregnancy.

Age 17, marked a significant turning point in Miriam's life. She battled the loss of her dad; joined the workforce to help provide for her family; married and had to endure an abusive marriage, which produced her only child.

Two years into that marriage, she was diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer, which she beat; a feat worth celebrating, but cut short because her marriage would end soon after, and her husband left. In the void that followed, she retraced her steps and rekindled her love for music; a romance that began from her childhood.

Ms. Makeba attended an all-black Methodist school where she was part of the school choir, but her professional career began with, first, the Cuban brothers, in South Africa, and then when she travelled to America, the Manhattan Brothers – both, an all men jazz singing group.

Arriving in America, meant exposure to the world stage, and Miriam would go on to various countries, musicals, and even movies. In 1959, Makeba would make an appearance on the Steve Allen Show, to an audience of 60 million; and her status as a global entertainer was confirmed.

Now this is just a snippet of Makeba's life story, and I have barely told her entire story – Wikipedia covers every date, location and event, better than I ever could. This is story is about the resilient woman, that Makeba was, and how she remains someone for whom I have great admiration. She remains my greatest role model, because of the impact she made in my life, and the reason I am talking about her today.

When I was a little girl in first grade, all I wanted to be was Miriam Makeba. My darling mother - of blessed memories, would always hearken to my pleas of allowing me to wear my braids with beads like Makeba's and that meant the world to me.

My first grade teacher (Mrs. Balogun) noticed my affinity for Miriam Makeba, and would occasionally have me dance and sing like her in front of the class in school, and this would make me feel unstoppable.

One fateful day the school principal (Mrs. Olaitan, R.I.P.) watched me entertain the students in my classroom from the hallway. She invited me to her office and asked if was comfortable repeating my performance for the other classes.

"Oh my goodness! Comfortable?, I’d be delighted!", I shrieked, barely hiding my excitement.

Mrs Olaitan then accompanied me from one class to another, and through that experience, I learned to be myself and conquer the fear of stage fright.

An inner confidence coursed my veins from that point onwards.

Eliminating stage fright and the fear of public speaking, earned me an audition for one of the popular biscuit brand's commercial at the time, and kept me motivated to perform in many drama skits over the course of my life.

And I owe it all to the strength and poise of 4 women; Mrs Balogun, Mrs Olaitan, My Mother, and of course Mariam Makeba.

These women encouraged my passion and instilled the fearlessness I needed to overcome challenges and to stay resolute in the face of obstacles at different stages in my life.

This is personal tribute, in their honor; Four beautiful, strong black woman who impacted my life more than they could ever imagine.

Thanks for reading ⚘

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