WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Poet, performer and humanitarian Maya Angelou, 86, died Wednesday at home in Winston-Salem, N.C., after battling a long illness.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis in 1928. Her brother first called her Maya. She later added Angelou, which was a version of her first husband's name, Tosh Angelos.
Known globally as a soft-spoken, yet powerful and inspirational orator, Angelou actually refused to speak publicly during her childhood living in the racially segregated South of Stamps, Ark. When she was 8, Angelou suffered physical and sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. Following that event, her abuser was murdered by a mob after she testified against him. It was then Angelou stopped speaking.
However in 1969, through her first of many memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou revealed loudly her painful childhood encounters and began to inspire others to speak out about injustice.
She toured Europe as a singer and dancer in the1950s with a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham and performed with Alvin Ailey on television. In 1957, Angelou recorded an album called Calypso Lady.
President Obama, upon hearing of Angelou's death, stated that she is, "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman."
Oprah Winfrey said the following about Angelou on her Twitter account (@Oprah):
"I've been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my 20’s. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her. She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds."