Born Zenzile Miriam Makeba in the black township of Prospect, near Johannesburg. Her Swazi mother, Christina Makeba, was a traditional healer, and a domestic worker. Her Xhosa father, Caswell Makeba, was a teacher; he died when Miriam was six years old. Miriam's mother was arrested for selling illegal homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Unable to pay the small fine in order to avoid a jail term, Christina was sentenced to prison and could not abandon her eighteen days old baby daughter. So Miriam spent the first six months of her life in jail with her mother. At the start of her singing career Makeba sang jazz, covers of popular American songs and traditional South African melodies with all-male groups the Cuban Brothers and the Manhattan Brothers with which she had her first hit. Then an all-woman group, the Skylarks. Harry Belafonte was her mentor. He helped her with first solo recordings. One of the songs was "Pata Pata" which became her most famous song.
In 1959, Miriam's four minutes cameo in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid film contributed to her passport being cancelled by the South African government when she tried to return for her mother's funeral after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. Family members died in the massacre. From this point, she became an outspoken critic of apartheid and the white-minority government. As a result, her music was banned in South Africa, and her South African citizenship and right to return were revoked. Things didnt fair better after Miriam married American activist Stokely Carmichael, a prominent figure in the Black Panther Party. She lost support of white audience, the American government had her under surveillance. Travelling was impossible as she was banned from returning to the US and refused a visa. The couple moved to Guinea. They lived in exile for 15 years.
In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he invited Makeba to return to South Africa, which she did.Over the years, Miriam invested her time in helping those in need. Miriam passed away from a heart attack after a performance against injustice in Italy.