Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesbourg in 1932.As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.
Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.
In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong with Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the USA. Her break came when she had a short guest appearance in the anti-apartheid documentary COME BACK AFRICA in 1959.
On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania. The concert was being held in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy. Makeba suffered a heart attack after singing her hit song "Pata Pata", and was taken to the "Pineta Grande" clinic where doctors were unable to revive her.