"Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us," said Nelson Mandela, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy.
Born in a shantytown outside of Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, Makeba first received international attention as a featured vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers in 1954. She toured the US until 1959.
The following year, when she wanted to return home to bury her mother, the apartheid state revoked her citizenship and also banned her music.
As a result, she spent 31 years in exile, living in the US and later in Guinea before becoming the first black African woman to receive a Grammy Award, which she shared with folk singer Harry Belafonte in 1965.
Two years later her fame sky-rocketed with the recording of the all-time hit Pata Pata. From that point, Makeba stood out for her distinctive clicking sounds, which she used to punctuate songs in her native Xhosa language.
She hit an all-time low in 1985 when Bongi, her only daughter, died at the age of 36 from complications from a miscarriage.
Makeba did not have money to buy a coffin for Bongi so she buried her alone barring a handful of journalists covering the funeral.
But she picked herself up again, as she did many times before, surviving failed marriages and illness.
She returned to South Africa in the 1990s after Mandela was released from prison.
However, it took a cash-strapped Makeba six years to find someone in the local recording industry to produce a record with her.
She then released Homeland which contains a song describing her joy to be back home after the many years in exile.
"I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa and the people without even realising," she said in her biography.