Elza Soares, 91, who pushed the boundaries of Brazilian music, dies

Elza Soares, the samba singer whose meteoric rise from the favela to stardom was later overshadowed by a scandalous affair with one of Brazil’s most famous soccer stars, died Thursday at her home in Rio de Janeiro . She was 91 years old.

His death was announced in a statement on his official Instagram account, who added that she “sang until the end”.

With fine features that have led to comparisons with Eartha Kitt and a rough voice reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, Ms. Soares has become one of the few black singers in Brazil to feature in movies in the 1960s and on television in the 1970s.

His first album, “Se Acaso Você Chegasse(“If You Happen to Stop By”), released in 1960, introduced scat singing to samba. His second, “A Bossa Negra(1961), clearly lacked bossa nova. Instead, it featured the samba genre popular in the favelas, reclaiming the African roots of a sound whose international success stemmed from the removal of samba drums and the addition of complex jazz harmonies.

As her fame grew, she stayed true to her roots. “I never left the favela,” she liked to tell reporters, and she often ended shows by thanking the audience for “every piece of bread my children ate.”

Such talk was almost unheard of in the 1960s in Brazil, where – despite a yawning gap between rich and poor, and despite having a larger black population than any other country outside Nigeria – publicly discussing issues of poverty and race was considered inelegant.

RCA Records refused to offer her a contract after learning she was black, and she spent years singing in Copacabana nightclubs before being signed to Odeon Records in 1960, where she began a long recording career subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – pushing the boundaries of Brazilian music.

But in the 1980s she was perhaps best known as the wife of the football star known as Manstar Garrincha – considered in Brazil as the second after Pelé – than for her music. When Garrincha left his wife and eight children to marry Mrs Soares, it was a national scandal. She was widely decried and called a house wrecker. Angry fans pelted their Rio home with rocks and even fired shots.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s, long after her husband’s death, that Ms Soares staged an unlikely comeback, embracing young composers and producers who were just beginning to discover her music. His new songs were even more direct than previous ones in addressing social issues, openly advocating for the rights of black people, gay people, and especially women.

Elza Gomes da Conceição was born on June 23, 1930 in the Padre Miguel favela in Rio de Janeiro. His mother, Rosária Maria da Conceição, was a laundress; his father, Avelino Gomes, was a bricklayer who played the guitar and loved samba music.

Her father forced her to marry Lourdes Antônio Soares when she was 12; at the age of 21, she was a widow and the mother of five children.

She said it was a desperate need to buy medicine for a sick child that led her to try her luck singing on a popular radio show when she was 15. safety pins. She nearly laughed off the stage until the show’s host, Ary Barbosa, asked her what planet she was from. She disarmed him with her response: “The same planet as you – Planet Hunger.”

“At that moment, everyone who was laughing sat down in their places and everyone fell silent. I finished singing and he hugged me saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, at this moment precise, a star is born,” Ms Soares said in a 2002 television interview.

Her singing career took off, leading to appearances in films and on television. She was one of the few black Brazilian women to achieve fame at the time.

Her career, however, was soon overshadowed by her crazy romance with Manuel Francisco dos Santos, says Garrincha. Their romance began at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where she represented Brazil as an artist, and where her career could have taken a very different turn: she also met Louis Armstrong, who invited her to tour the United States with him, but she chose instead to follow her heart and return to Brazil with Garrincha. This decision would have disastrous repercussions.

Harangued by the public and the press, the couples were forced to move to São Paulo and eventually to Italy, where they spent four years. They married in 1966.

Ms Soares was pregnant with their son, Manoel Francisco dos Santos Júnior, when the couple returned to Brazil in 1975. By this time, Garrincha’s alcoholism was becoming a serious problem. He was driving drunk in 1969 when he had an accident which killed Mrs Soares’ mother. He beat Mrs Soares, who became known for visiting bar owners to implore them not to serve her husband. But his efforts proved futile; Garrincha died of cirrhosis in 1983.

When their son died in a car crash in 1986 aged 9, Ms Soares was devastated and left Brazil. She spent several years in Los Angeles, trying in vain to embark on an international career.

She credited Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso with helping her return to music when she was ready to give up, featuring her on his 1984 album, “Bike.”

But her output was spotty throughout the 1980s and 90s, and it wasn’t until 2002 that she found her groove, connecting with composers and producers in the samba sujo (“dirty samba”) scene. of São Paulo to record the album “Do Cóccix Até or Pescoço” (“From the coccyx to the neck”), which was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award.

In 2016, her “A Mulher do Fim do Mundo” (“The Woman at the End of the World”) won a Latin Grammy for Best Brazilian Popular Music Album.

Mrs. Soares is survived by her children, Joao Carlos, Gerson, Dilma and Sara, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her son Dilson died in 2015.

She continued to find success with younger audiences in the new century, working tirelessly as she approached 90, exploring musical styles such as electronic dance music, punk rock and free jazz, and recording albums that fearlessly addressed social issues.

The title of his albumPlanet Fome(“Planet Hunger”), released in 2019, was a direct reference to how his career began on the radio talent show that would forever change not only his life but the course of Brazilian music.

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