The diva of Brazilian song, Elza Soares, died on Thursday January 20, at the age of 91, from “natural causes”, in his residence in Rio de Janeiro, announced his press service on the artist’s Instagram account.
With more than thirty records to her credit in more than sixty years of career, the black artist with her characteristic hoarse timbre was considered one of the greatest voices in Brazilian song. In 1999, the BBC crowned her “Brazilian singer of the millennium”.
“Icon of Brazilian music, considered one of the greatest artists in the world, the sacred singer “Voice of the Millennium” had an extraordinary, intense life, which moved the world with her voice, her strength and her determination”, the statement said.
“Everything in my life started wrong”
Born June 23, 1930 into a poor family, Elza Soares has managed throughout her career to evolve with ease in the most diverse environments, from the favela of Agua Santa, in the suburbs of Rio, where she grew up, in concert halls around the world.
Samba, jazz, bossa nova and even rock suited the hoarse voice of the singer. At the beginning of his career, it was even thought that this characteristic timbre was due to an anomaly. “We said that before, but nobody has an extra vocal cord, it’s crazy. She’s twisted, I think she’s twisted, because everything in my life started out wrong”, told the singer in an interview on a Brazilian channel in 2002.
Like her career, the personal life of Elza Gomes da Conceição Soares has alternated joys and dramas. Forced to marry at 12 by her father, she had her first child the following year. At 21, she is already a widow and has given birth to seven children, only five of whom survived.
In financial difficulties – she had confessed to having stolen food to feed her children – she decided in 1953 to participate in a radio musical program. When the presenter makes fun of his appearance by asking “What planet are you from? », she replies curtly: “From the Planet of Hunger. » After his performance, he says: “Ladies and gentlemen, a star is born. »
“A saxophone in the throat”
In 1962, during the Football World Cup in Chile, where she was invited to be the godmother of the Brazilian team, the American star Louis Armstrong was charmed by the singer and her “saxophone in the throat”. For seventeen years, she maintained a relationship that was both fusional and stormy with Garrincha, legend of Brazilian football, who died in 1983, bruised by the ravages of alcohol. Three years later, the couple’s son died at the age of 9 in a road accident. In total, four of the artist’s eight children died.
The singer with flamboyant hair has experienced several musical revivals. In 1984, she recorded Lingua with Caetano Veloso. At the opening of the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007, she is chosen to sing the Brazilian national anthem a cappella.
With the release of the album A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (“The Woman of the End of the World”), in 2015, the new generations discovered it. The record, which deals with racism, machismo and violence against women, was a resounding success and won the Latin Grammy for best Brazilian song album. From Deus é Mulher (“God is a woman”), released in 2018, the public sees her singing seated, following several back operations which reduced her mobility. But she has lost none of her enthusiasm. “I’ll tell you something: my age has nothing to do with my energy”, she confided to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on the occasion of the release of this disc.
Criticism against the conservative wave
The singer was as critical of the conservative wave linked to the rise of neo-Pentecostal churches as of the gaping inequalities of a country still hit by serious problems of racism. “We live in a country full of prejudice, it’s horrible. It’s my country, I love it madly. But we have practically no rights. The poor, the blacks, the women, where are their rights? », she protested.
“I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of life. She’s so bad for people that I’m like, “My God, how can they put up with her?” But you have to live, you have to have strength”, confided the one who had become for the Brazilians a symbol of resistance and courage.
“Beloved and eternal Elza has gone to rest, but she will forever remain in music history and in our hearts and in the hearts of millions of fans around the world. As Elza Soares wished, she sang until the end”, concluded the statement on this sad day for Brazil.