Her singing career started in the 1950s as she mixed jazz with traditional South African songs.
She came to international attention in 1959 during a tour of the United States with South African group the Manhattan Brothers.
She was forced into exile soon after when her passport was revoked after starring in an anti-apartheid documentary and did not return to her native country until after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
Makeba was the first black African woman to win a Grammy Award, which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965.
Charlie Gillett, who presents the BBC World of Music programme, says there is nobody to compare to her, as she was popular in West Africa - after living in exile in Guinea - and East Africa for recording a version of the Swahili song Malaika, as well as her home in South Africa.
She was African music's first world star blending different styles long before the phrase "world music" was coined.
After her divorce from fellow South African musician Hugh Masekela she married American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.
It was while living in exile in the US that she released her most famous songs, Pata Pata and the Click Song.
"You sing about those things that surround you," she said. "Our surrounding has always been that of suffering from apartheid and the racism that exists in our country. So our music has to be affected by all that."
It was because of this dedication to her home continent that Miriam Makeba became known as Mama Africa.
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