Miriam Makeba was a South African singer and civil rights activist who put African music onto the international map in the 1960s. Miriam Makeba was born on March 4, 1932, in Johannesburg. It was a time of severe economic depression in the country. Her father was a clerk with Shell Oil, and her mother was a domestic worker. When Makeba was just 18 days old, her mother was imprisoned for six months for illegally brewing beer to make ends meet. Makeba went to prison with her.