Biopic in Development on South African Singer Miriam Makeba

Dave McNary
Variety

A biopic on the late South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba is in the works with the Miriam Makeba Estate, Miriam Makeba Foundation and Mama Africa Cultural & Social Trust.

Suzanne de Passe, who wrote the Billie Holiday movie “Lady Sings the Blues,” and her long time business partner, Madison Jones of de Passe Jones Entertainment, are producing the untitled movie. Also producing are Broadway producer Willette Klausner; music producer David Franco; and journalist Marc Le Chat, Makeba’’s long-time publicist and confidant.

Makeba was one of the key voices against apartheid and popularized African music starting in the late 1950s. She was South Africa’s first Grammy winner and a Top 10 artist, recording and performing songs in English, Portuguese, Hebrew and Swahili. Makeba worked with Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Nina Simone, Odetta, Hugh Masekela and Paul Simon.

Her South African citizenship was revoked in 1963. She was part of Simon’s Graceland tour and performed in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988. Mandela was freed from prison in 1990 and persuaded Makeba to return to South Africa later that year. She passed away in 2008 at the age of 76.

De Passe worked with Berry Gordy at Motown and was instrumental in taking the record label to television. She was the producer of “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” while she was President of Motown Productions.

Klausner is also producer of “Three Mo’ Tenors” and the Broadway plays “The Encounter,” currently on Broadway with Simon McBurney, and “Eclipsed,” which starred Lupita Nyong’o. Franco is a former A&R executive of Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Records International Division.

Le Chat first met Makeba after attending and covering her performance with Paul Simon on his Graceland concert in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s. After her return to the country in 1990, he became her publicist and confidant for the next 15 years.

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