Amália Rodrigues

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Amália Rodrigues
Amália Rodrigues 1969.jpg
Amália Rodrigues, 1969
Background information
Birth name Amália Rebordão Rodrigues
Also known as Queen of fado (Rainha do Fado, in Portuguese)
Born (1920-07-23)July 23, 1920
Origin Fundão, Portugal
Died October 6, 1999(1999-10-06) (aged 79)
Genres Fado
Occupation(s) Singer, Actress
Instruments Vocals, Portuguese Guitar
Labels Valentim de Carvalho

Amália Rebordão Rodrigues GCSE, GCIH (July 23, 1920 – October 6, 1999), known as Amália Rodrigues (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐˈmaliɐ ʁuˈðɾiɣɨʃ]), was a Portuguese fadista (fado singer in direct translation) and actress. Known as the Rainha do Fado ("Queen of Fado"), Rodrigues helped popularize fado worldwide and traveled internationally between the 1950s and 1970s. She also became one of the most important figures in the genre's development, becoming the pre-eminent female fadista during a 50-year recording and stage career. Amália was the main inspiration for other well-known international fado and popular music artists such as Madredeus, Dulce Pontes, and Mariza.

Amália Rodrigues remains today Portugal's most famous artist and singer, a woman who was born into an almost destitute family and who grew to become not only Portugal's major star but also an internationally acclaimed artist and singer, whose career spanned 55 years, recording songs in several languages (especially Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and Italian), versions of her own songs, most famously "Coimbra" ("April In Portugal") and performing all over the world, achieving tremendous success in countries like France, Italy, Argentina, Spain, the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Romania, Japan and The Netherlands, among many others.

Her personality and charisma, her beauty and her extraordinary timbre of voice gave depth and intense life to her singing: the impression she made on the public, her immediacy and the natural way she empathized with her public were tremendous and attracted more and more admirers throughout the world.

By the time of her death in 1999, Amália had received more than 40 decorations and honors from all over the world (mostly France, including the Légion d'Honneur, Lebanon, Portugal, Spain, Israel and Japan).

Most importantly Amália put fado as a musical genre on the map of world music, in dictionaries, libraries and musical essays. She paved the way for the generations that would follow, and that continue her legacy.

The early years[edit]

Despite official documents which give her date of birth as July 23, Amália always said her birthday was July 1, 1920.[1] She was born in Fundão, a house of Rua dos Galegos currently very degraded, street renamed by New State Rua Marquês de Pombal . The Rebordão family (Maternal side) has roots in Souto da Casa, parish County of Fundão, and, Amalia 's grandfather worked as a blacksmith in this village, making " broaches ," small round head nails that were applied the shoes to prevent wear of the soles .

In the Parish Church of Fundão is the baptism certificate of Amália, a document that was also published in the Journal of Fundão after the death of the singer, and the investigator Salvado J. Travassos have even discovered a birth certificate .

In Lisbon, according to the testimony of José Filipe Duarte Gonçalves, nephew-grandson of Lucinda Rebordão, was only born his sister, Odette, in addition to another child who died. Amália started singing as an amateur as early as 1935.

Her miserable childhood in Lisbon, almost destitute and having to do odd jobs (one of which included selling fruit in Lisbon's quays), gave her a very important outlook on life, which would always be present in soulfulness of her chant.

After a few years of amateur performances, Amália's first professional engagement in a fado venue took place in 1939, and she quickly became a regular guest star in stage revues.[2] There she met Frederico Valério, a classically trained composer who, recognizing the potential in such a voice, wrote expansive melodies custom-designed for Amália’s voice, breaking the rules of fado by adding orchestral accompaniment. Among those fados were 'Fado do Ciúme', 'Ai Mouraria', 'Que Deus Me Perdoe', and 'Não Sei Porque Te Foste Embora.'

In the meantime Amália became Portugal's most renowned singer, and she became first the toast of Lisbon and then the toast of Portugal, attracting friends and admirers both from the people, then from the aristocracy. Artists, poets, politicians, former Kings and bankers were attracted by her personality and charisma.

At the same time Amália began an interesting career in the movies: her box office power was a major asset, and she debuted in the movies in 1946 with 'Capas Negras', followed by a major success, which is still Amália's most known movie, 'Fado' (1947).[3]

Her Portuguese popularity began to extend abroad with trips to Spain, a lengthy stay in Brazil (where, in 1945, she made her first recordings on Brazilian label Continental) and Paris (1949). In 1950, while performing at the Marshall Plan international benefit shows, she introduced 'April in Portugal' to international audiences, under its original title "Coimbra".

In the early fifties, the patronage of acclaimed Portuguese poet David Mourão-Ferreira marked the beginning of a new phase: Amália sang with many of the country's greatest poets, and some wrote lyrics specifically for her. Though Amália came from an extremely poor family, she had an intuitive intelligence which made her admire the arts and made her choose with increasing criteria and taste her own songs and their words. Her relationship with poetry would once again contribute to major changes in traditional fado: not only popular poets produced words for the songs, but the so-called great poets started contributing and writing specifically for her. The 'grand poetry' crossed its paths with those of fado.

The middle years[edit]

Amália had indeed taken a few steps outside of Portugal, the above-mentioned appearances in Spain (1943), Brasil, (1945) with her first recordings, and Berlin (1950). Her success wherever she went paved the way for further appearances abroad: she was the first Portuguese artist to ever appear on American television on ABC in 1953, and later to appear in Hollywood singing at the Mocambo, among others, in 1954. She also appeared on Mexican television. Wherever she went, a new group of admirers followed her.

She refused a proposal to appear in the movies in 1954, partly because of her shy nature and partly because allegedly she missed home.

But Amália would become a truly international name in 1954.

In 1954, Amália's international career skyrocketed through her presence in Henri Verneuil’s film The Lovers of Lisbon (Les Amants du Tage), where she had a supporting role. By the late 1950s the USA, Britain, and France had become her major international markets; Japan and Italy followed suit in the 1970s. In France especially, her popularity rivaled her Portuguese success, and she graduated to headliner at the prestigious Olympia theatre within a matter of months. This led to the release of the album Portugal's Great Amália Rodrigues Live at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, in 1957, on Monitor Records (now under Smithsonian Folkways). Over the years, she performed nearly all over the world — going as far as the Soviet Union and Israel.

In France she performed on television and became a well-known figure and artist and a much admired singer. Charles Aznavour even wrote a fado in French especially for her 'Aie Mourir Pour Toi' and she created versions of her own songs (Coimbra became Avril au Portugal, among others). She would perform at the prestigious Olympia for 10 seasons between 1956 and 1992, a feat almost unequaled by any other artist. From France she became a truly international star. Her voice, however, demanded more of the music and the words she sang.

At the end of the 1950s, Amália took a year off. Amália had been briefly married (1940–43) to a guitarist, whom she would later divorce, and fell in love with the son of a Portuguese immigrant in Brazil, an engineer, César Seabra (1922–1997) and they married in 1961. She then said she would sing only once in a while, but after a year's absence, she was no longer able to resist the appeal of the music she loved. She returned in 1962 with a richer voice, concentrating on recording and performing live at a slower pace. Her comeback album, 1962's Amália Rodrigues, was her first collaboration with French composer Alain Oulman, her main songwriter and musical producer throughout the decade. As Frederico Valério, before him, Oulman wrote melodies for her that transcended the conventions of fado.

In fact Alain Oulman (1929–1990), created in that album, also known as 'Busto' (Bust), a different kind of fado, with more extensions and which introduced aspects attributed traditionally to opera: the legatos, the extension of the voice, which adapted and fitted perfectly Amália's voice. She sang with renewed power, and became a true enchantress of the song. Also in that record she sang her own poems ('Estranha Forma de Vida') and poems written by great Portuguese poets, like Pedro Homem de Mello, David Mourão-Ferreira and others. She created longlife successes, which became classics and immortal songs in Portugal, like 'Povo Que Lavas no Rio', 'Maria Lisboa' and 'Abandono'.

She resumed her stage career singing all over the world, including Israel, the UK, France, and returning to the USA for Promenade Concerts in Hollywood at the Hollywood Bowl, and New York City, accompanied by Andre Kostelanetz, both in 1966 and 1968, achieving an extraordinary success. She also sang in Soviet Union and Romania, among other countries.

She continued her acting career, in films like 'Sangue Toureiro' (1958), and 'Fado Corrido' (1964).

Amália did not shy away from controversy: her performance in Carlos Vilardebó’s 1964 arthouse film The Enchanted Islands was better received than the film, based on a short story by Herman Melville, and her 1965 recording of poems by 16th century poet Luís de Camões generated acres of newspaper polemics. Yet her popularity remained untouched. Her 1968 single Vou dar de beber à dor broke all sales records and her 1970 album Com que voz won a number of international awards.

Having been given Portugal's Film Award for Best Actress for 'Fado' in 1947, once again she was awarded as Portugal's Best Film Actress in 1965, in a movie where she didn't sing.

In between she extended her talents to other kinds of songs: she recorded some of her old songs with an orchestra, recorded an extraordinary album with jazz saxophonist Don Byas 'Encontro' (1968), and recorded an album of American songs with Norrie Paramor's orchestra, 'Amália On Broadway' which includes a sensitive and powerful rendition of 'Summertime', 'The Nearness of You' among others.

Meanwhile, Alain Oulman, who was by heart a left-wing intellectual, was arrested by Portugal's political police in 1966, and forced into exile, but he continued to contribute with his music to Amália's voice, leaving behind many compositions which would enable her to record his music.

But her most important album in the 1960s was indeed 'Com Que Voz', (1969), reprising many of her successes and adding a few more, all poems by great Portuguese-speaking poets, and music by Alain Oulman. Amália was at the height of her vocal and performing powers during the 1960s. But the 1970s would bring more countries, more success and an array of awards all over the world.

The later years[edit]

During the 1970s, Amália concentrated on live work, and embarked upon a heavy schedule of worldwide concert performances. During the frenetic post-April 25, 1974 period she was falsely accused of being a covert agent of the PIDE, causing some trauma to her public life and career. In fact, during the Salazar years, Amália had been an occasional financial supporter of some communists in need. At the same time she had occasionally expressed some admiration for Salazar himself. But as a singer she always remained above politics, before or after the Revolution. The democratic regime would in fact decorate her far more than the dictatorship. During the 1970s Amália had a tremendous success and following in two countries: Italy and Japan. Wherever she went there she was the toast of the town. She would record an album of Italian traditional songs 'A Una Terra Che Amo' (1973) and again created versions of her own songs in Italian. And would record her live performances in an album called 'Amália in Italia' (1978). Her return to the recording studio in 1977 with Cantigas numa Língua Antiga was received as a triumph. Soon after, however, Amália suffered her first health troubles, which caused her to be away from the stage for a short period again, and forced her to concentrate on performing especially in Portugal, though she still traveled abroad. Those problems were followed by a period of depression, and an introspection which led to the recording of two very personal albums: 'Gostava de Ser Quem Era' (1980) (literally 'I Wish I Were Who I Was')and 'Lágrima' (1983): all these songs were written by her own hand, since she used the poems she herself wrote. They were both successes, and in between she sang Frederico Valerio's songs again, in an album called 'Fado' (1982). The 1980s and 1990s brought her enthronement as a living legend. Her last all-new studio recording, Lágrima, was released in 1983. It was followed by a series of previously lost or unreleased recordings, and the smash success of two greatest hits collections that sold over 200,000 copies combined.

In fact, increasingly away from the stage on a regular basis, Amália found herself ill again in 1984, and went to New York in order to attempt suicide, but she couldn't go through with it and instead sought and got medical care. Upon her return home, and after a year of interruption, she was invited by a French journalist and admirer, Jean-Jacques Lafaye, back on stage. She then returned to the Olympia in Paris in 1985, for a series of concerts, and again from Paris she retook the world. The years 1985-1994 were of great and renewed international success, especially up until 1991. She again sang all over the world, being paid tributes and being celebrated as one of the world's major voices and singers: she sang all over France, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, and major concerts in Portugal in 1985 and 1987, and so many others, being decorated and paid regular tributes.

In her home country she was an icon and a symbol of Portugal. In 1990 the celebrations of her 50th career anniversary started with a major concert in Lisbon's Coliseu dos Recreios, appearing at the age of 69, to an overwhelmed public. She was decorated by the President of the Republic on stage, and started a series of concerts all over the world, including a comeback to New York in late 1990, as described below. Her voice had changed: it was lower but intense, and her on stage presence overwhelmed everybody, her beauty and charisma untouched.

Despite a series of illnesses involving her voice, Amália continued recording as late as 1990. She eventually retreated from public performance, although her career gained in stature with an official biography by historian and journalist Vítor Pavão dos Santos, and a five-hour TV series documenting her fifty-year career featuring rare archival footage (later distilled into the 90-minute film documentary, The Art of Amália). Its director, Bruno de Almeida, has also produced Amália, Live in New York City, a concert film of her 1990 performance at The Town Hall.

Amália launched a final album of originals in 1990, 'Obssessão', and from 1991 to 1994 it was felt that she was saying good-bye to her public, who still attended her performances. However, new health problems and difficulties took their toll: in December 1994 she gave her last concert, within the Lisbon European Capital of Culture concerts: she was 74, and was operated on a lung soon after in 1995. She would never again return to the stage. She was however much celebrated in the country and abroad. Television specials, interviews and tributes were held. She released a new album with original recordings from the 1960s and 1970s, 'Segredo' (1997), and a book of her poems, including the ones she had sung: 'Amália: Versos' (1997).

In 1998 Amália was paid a national tribute at Lisbon's Universal Exhibition (Expo '98), and in February 1999 was considered one of Portugal's 25 more important personalities of the democratic period. Soon after she recorded what would become her last interview for television and the Cinématheque in Paris paid her a tribute in April 1999, with a showing of some of her movies.

On October 6, 1999, Amália Rodrigues died at the age of 79 in her home in Lisbon. Portugal's government promptly declared three days of national mourning.[4][5] Her house, in Rua de São Bento, is now a museum. She is buried at the National Pantheon alongside other Portuguese notables.

In fact she was given a State Funeral, attended by tens of thousands, and was later transferred to the Pantheon in 2001, the only woman to be so, after the Parliament decided to honor her with that dignity.

Upon her death and by will, she created the Foundation Amália Rodrigues, which manages her legacy and assets, except her copyright, willed to two of her nephews. Amália's estate was never exactly valued, but she left two houses, (one mansion in Lisbon), antiques, works of art, a collection of jewels and other important items, decorations, and an amount of money.

In 2007, she came in 14th in Portugal's election of Os Grandes Portugueses (The Greatest Portuguese).[6] One year later, in 2008, a film about her life Amália was released, with Sandra Barata portraying her.[7]

Amália, who was once considered by Variety as one of the voices of the century, remains to this day as the most international of Portuguese artists and singers, and in Portugal, a national icon.

Her cultural relevance is shown by the fact that she put fado on the world map as a form of chant and music, and her steps were followed by an array of performers and singers, whom, in their own right, achieved success and worldwide fame, following in her path and many of whom sing her repertoire, under its classic form or under a new look. Amália's repertoire continues to be a major one, allowing for new performer's renewed success and international breakthrough.


Amália's parents had nine children: Vicente and Filipe, José and António (who both died in childhood), Amália, Celeste, Aninhas (who died at sixteen), Maria da Glória (who died shortly after birth), and Maria Odete. In 1940, she married Francisco Cruz, a lathe worker and amateur guitar player from whom she separated in 1943 and whom she divorced in 1946. In 1961, in Rio de Janeiro, she married César Seabra, a Brazilian engineer; they remained married until his death in 1997. She had no children.[1]


This discography is not yet complete.


  1. ^ a b "Biografia de Amalia Rodrigues". At-Tambur (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  2. ^ "Amália Rodrigues". Os grandes portugueses (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  3. ^ Gabriela Cruz, "The Suspended Voice of Amália Rodrigues" In Music in Print and Beyond: Hildegard von Bingen to the Beatles, 180-199.
  4. ^ "Amalia Rodrigues". Economist. 14 October 1999. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "O desaparecimento de Amália Rodrigues". At-Tambur (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  6. ^ "90 mais". Os grandes portugueses (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  7. ^ "Amália - o filme". Portal do Fado (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 

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