A native white South African of European descent, Josef Marais was among the first singers from that country to find an audience in the post-World War II United States, principally in association with his wife Miranda. Born on the Karoo Plateau, he was raised on a sheep ranch -- he spoke both English and Afrikaans fluently, and manifested an interest in the folk songs of South Africa while still a boy -- he'd listened transfixed to the singing of the farm workers and learned them himself, and began to collect them and study the variations he found in them. He was also seriously gifted as a musician, earning several violin scholarships, and achieved enough proficiency on the instrument in the 1920s so that a career with a symphony orchestra seemed to be his destiny. He played with the Capetown Symphony Orchestra and studied violin and composition in London, Paris, Prague, and Budapest. But all the while, he'd also nurtured a proficiency on the guitar that was equally impressive and lent itself more easily to his fascination with folk nusic. When he returned from study in London in the late '20s, he immersed himself once again in the folk culture he'd found in his youth. And by the time of his second trip to London, his interest had broadened to encompass the folk songs of the world.
Marais made his American debut in 1939 through the National Broadcasting Company, which had invited him to present a program on the air devoted to the music of South Africa. His initial presentation, starting with Bushveld songs on a show called "African Trek," proved unexpectedly popular and he was subsequently signed to Decca Records. Fronting an act billed as Josef Marais & His Bushveld Band, he occupied a unique niche in the folk music world of the late '30s and early '40s; with the outbreak of World War II and America's entry into the fighting, Marais went to work as the chief of the South African desk at the Office of War Information in New York City, choosing and presenting material for broadcast to South Africa (which was an American ally) and Afrikaaners fighting around the world. It was during this period that he met Rosa Lily Odette Baruch de la Pardo, who worked under the professional name Miranda as a pianist -- she came from Holland and had volunteered to assist the OWI's South African desk as a translator and editor. Quite by accident, Marais discovered that she had a singing voice of exceptional beauty, and they began doing duets on the OWI broadcasts. They made the partnership permanent, along with a marriage to go with it, after the war. From that time on, they were known and Marais & Miranda, and recorded and performed extensively, with Hollywood as their base. He appeared in a pair of movies as well, and the duo remained active until his death in 1978