Amalia Rodrigues, the Queen on Fado
Amalia Rodrigues, forever considered the “Voice of Portugal”, was responsible for putting Fado under the spotlight of the world music scene.
Amalia Rodrigues is the “Queen of Fado”, the greatest exponent of this Portuguese music style. In fact, it was due to this amazing singer and actress that Fado conquered a prominent place in the international music scene. Her unmistakable singing style pushed Fado boundaries and helped redefining it, paving the way for today’s acclaimed performers such as Mariza or Ana Moura.
Amalia Rodrigues was born in the heart of Lisbon on July 1920 and was raised by her grandmother in a catholic environment until she was 14. She began singing on the streets of Lisbon at the early age of 4 and became an amateur singer at 14. Due to the poverty of her family, Amalia Rodrigues had a though childhood, being forced to leave school and go to work. This difficult period of her life molded her spirit and gave her a realistic outlook of life, which is very present at her singing. The harsh times enhanced her strong charisma and determined personality that would be crucial for her career.
In 1939 Amalia Rodrigues performed for the first time as a professional fadista (female fado singer), achieving immediate success. However, it was when she met the composer Frederico Valério that her course to immortality began. Frederico Valério recognized and explored all the potential of Amalia Rodrigues’s voice, by adding orchestral accompaniment to her performances, breaking the formal rules of Fado. From this partnership where born unforgettable fados such as Fado do Ciúme, Ai Mouraria, Que Deus Me Perdoe, Não Sei Porque Te Foste Embora.
Amalia Rodrigues grew a close relationship with poetry under the influence of one of her best friends the acclaimed poet David Mourão-Ferreira. Amalia Rodrigues sang many of the greatest Portuguese poets, thus introducing the “great poetry” into Fado, increasing enormously the quality of the traditional Fado lyrics. In fact, many of the great poets contemporary of her time wrote specifically for her. Immortal songs like Povo Que Lavas no Rio, Maria Lisboa and Abandono were only possible because Amalia Rodrigues allowed poetry to cross path with Fado.
Years later, she toke this innovation even further by singing lyrics from foreign composers in foreign languages. For instance, Charles Aznavour wrote especially for her Aie Mourir Pour Toi, a fado in French, and Alain Oulman became one of her favorite composers. Alain was responsible for her album Busto, where she sang a different kind of Fado, with Opera influences. This record presents one of her most emblematic themes Estranha Forma de Vida, curiously written by her.
Amalia Rodrigues’s charisma, beauty and unique timbre also granted her an eminent position in cinema, not only in Portugal but also abroad. From her long and impressive cinema career I would like to highlight Capas Negras and Fado in Portugal and The Lovers of Lisbon (Les Amants du Tage) internationally as it was with this film that her career abroad skyrocketed.
Amalia Rodrigues tried other musical styles, having produced pearls such as the jazz album Encontro with saxophonist Don Byas and Amalia Rodrigues on Brodway, an album with American songs recorded with the Norrie Paramor’s orchestra, that includes an incredible touching version of Summertime.
With her voice, once considered by Variety as one of the voices of the 20th century, beauty and personality, Amalia Rodrigues conquered fans in countries like Spain, France, Brazil, USA, Mexico, Romania, Japan and even the former USSR, among others.
At every performance, the connection she established with the audience granted her more and more admirers. She went further than other Portuguese artist. She was the first Portuguese artist to perform on American Television on ABC in 1953 and to appear in Hollywood. Performing on the Olympia for 10 seasons between 1956 and 1992 is another Amalia Rodrigues’s achievement.
Unfortunately, following serious health problems, the voice of Portugal became silent on October 6th, 1999. Upon her death, was declared a period of national mourning and her funeral, attended by thousands, had honors of a State Funeral. In 2001 she was transferred to the Pantheon, an honour never before granted to a woman.
The importance of Amalia Rodrigues, who grew up to became a symbol of Portugal, is well expressed by the fact that as of her death she received more than 40 decorations and honors from all over the world, being the Légion d’Honneur given by France, one of the most important.