On July 23, 1920, a woman was born in Lisbon, whose name would remain forever linked to the history of Portugal: Amalia Rodrigues. At 14 months, she was left in the care of her maternal grandparents when her parents returned to Beira Baixa. Having had, at a very young age, several occupations – from embroiderer to waitress – she sang for the first time in public in 1935, at a charity party, accompanied by an uncle.
As a professional, she made her debut in 1939 at Retiro da Severa. In the following year, she performed in Madrid, starting a national and international career unmatched by any other Portuguese artist. In 1944, she traveled for the first time to Brazil where her success was so great that she would end up staying there longer than expected and returning there many more times.
She sang for the first time at the Olympia de Paris, in 1956, at a farewell party for Josephine Baker, but only the following year would she act on that stage as the main and absolute artist.
Her powerful and expressive voice was heard and applauded almost everywhere in the world. Amália Rodrigues became the great promoter of fado abroad and is recognised as the greatest interpreter of the long tradition of this type of music.
There were countless concerts that she gave throughout her artistic life and there were also several situations in which she was venerated, such as those that took place in the great tribute show at the Coliseu dos Recreios de Lisboa, where she received the Grand Cross of the Order of Santiago and Espada (1990); at the ceremony in which François Mitterrand, President of the Republic of France, awarded her the Legion of Honor (1991); and at the Gare Marítima de Alcântara show, shown live by Radiotelevisão Portuguesa (1995).
The Portuguese fado singer died on October 6, 1999 and was buried on October 8, after funeral ceremonies that had state honours. She was 79 years old. The news of her death spread around the world and moved the country. About 50,000 people accompanied the artist’s urn in the procession between the Estrela basilica and the Prazeres cemetery, in Lisbon.
The Portuguese singer, actress and fado singer, who many continue to acclaim as the voice of Portugal and consider one of the most brilliant world singers of the 20th century, is now buried in the National Pantheon, where she was moved 21 months later, in July 2001.
Some curiosities that not everyone knows:
– After working in an embroidery studio, Amália Rodrigues goes to work for a candy factory, close to home. The future artist peels quinces and wraps candy while singing. Colleagues praise her voice and, as the hours go by, ask for more songs.
– Debuted in a yellow dress with green stripes. She debuted as a fado singer in the fado house O Retiro da Severa in July 1939. On the eve of the first public performance, Jorge Soriano’s wife, the owner of the space, went with the interpreter of “Gaivota” and “Barco negro” at shopping. The choice fell on a short-sleeved dress, yellow with green stripes, with a lace bib and a golden collar.
– The lyrics for “Foi Deus”, one of Amália Rodrigues’ most popular fados, were composed by a pharmacist from Reguengos de Monsaraz in Alentejo. Proud of the composition, which was written at the table of a local cafe, Alberto Janes announces, shortly afterwards, to friends that he is preparing to travel to Lisbon to offer it to the fado singer. The majority, incredulous, laughs. Days later, it rings at the door of Amalia. She reads the poem and agrees to record fado.
– In 1952, Amália Rodrigues went on to conquer America and triumphed across the board. Some agents propose to her to record songs in English of composers like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Samuel Barber. The fado singer refuses. In Hollywood, there are also several film producers who dispute her. 20th Century Fox executives offer to her a millionaire contract. The artist returns to Lisbon without giving an answer.