Elza Soares

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About Elza Soares

Owner of a distinctive voice and a flamboyant style, Elza Soares was one of the most popular and influential samba singers. Starting right away with her debut single -- "Se Acaso Você Chegasse" in 1959, on which she introduced scat singing à la Louis Armstrong to samba -- she became a successful recording artist. Her second album, A Bossa Negra, from 1961, is considered a treasure of Brazilian music at home and abroad. With her voice and songs, Soares always celebrated the gritty aspects of peasant life. It is her birthright, as she was born in a favela. Her passionate, exaggerated style won over audiences in Brazil and across the world. Admired by artists such as Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, and Nick Cave, to name a few, she was awarded best female singer of the millennium by the BBC. Living in extreme poverty throughout her childhood and teens, Soares had her first audition in radio at Ary Barroso's novice show when she was 16, winning first place. She was then hired as a crooner by the Orquestra Garam de Bailes (led by conductor Joaquim Naegeli). She worked in the orchestra until 1954, when she became pregnant. In 1955, she was invited to star with Grande Otelo in the play Jour-Jou-Fru-Fru, which was a smash. Three years later, she toured Argentina, returning the next year when she was hired by Rádio Vera Cruz. Also in 1959, she recorded a 78 rpm of "Se Acaso Você Chegasse" (Lupício Rodrigues/Felisberto Martins), one of her biggest hits. In 1960, she went to São Paulo, where she performed regularly in the show I Festival Nacional de Bossa Nova and recorded her first LP, Se Acaso Você Chegasse. In 1962, she represented Brazil in Chile during the World Soccer Cup, where she met football star Garrincha. Having recorded several albums with the hits "Só Danço Samba" (Tom Jobim/Vinícius de Moraes), "A Banca do Distinto" (Billy Blanco), "Pressentimento" (Elton Medeiros/Hermínio Bello de Carvalho), and "Princesa Isabel" (Sérgio Ricardo), she moved to Italy in 1969, where she performed at the Sistina Theater (Rome), returning to Brazil in 1972. In the same year, she opened the show Elza em Dia de Graça at the Opinião Theater (Rio) and participated in the Brasil Export Show (Canecão). Rediscovered in the '80s as a cult heroine by Os Titãs, she performed with the band in a regular show at the Madame Satã nightclub. Soares also recorded in duet with Caetano Veloso on his album Velô, and with Lobão on Casa de Samba. With her Trajetória (1997), in which she was paid tribute by Zeca Pagodinho, she won the Prêmio Sharp Award as Best Samba Singer. In November 1999, Soares participated in the show Desde Que o Samba é Samba (at Royal Albert Hall, London, England), together with Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Virginia Rodrigues. In 2000, her life was depicted in the musical Crioula (by Stella Miranda). In 2002, she released the acclaimed Do Cóccix Até O Pescoço on Maianga Discos, which successfully wedded samba, bossa, and MPB with electronic sounds. Produced and recorded by Alê Siqueira, it featured an enormous cast of guest musicians under the direction of pianist Jose Miguel Wisnik, including Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, and Carlinhos Brown. It sold well internationally and received a Grammy nomination. Vivo Feliz followed on Tratore in 2004 and contained the singles "Rio de Janeiro" and a reading of "Concordia" by Nando Reis, featuring the songwriter in a duet. Working again with Wisnik, she released the live Beba-Me Ao Vivo and a concert DVD with the same title in 2007. Though Soares continued to perform, she took an extended break from recording. A year later she was the featured vocalist on the soundtrack of the film Chega de Saudade. She fell from the stage during a performance and required numerous spinal column surgeries. It slowed her down and forced her to perform in a chair, but she never stopped. In 2015, she re-entered the studio with producer Guilherme Kastrup of São Paulo’s groundbreaking samba sujo scene. She didn't like his idea of recording a set of classic sambas in modern settings and instead insisted on creating entirely original new material -- a first in her long career. He hired the city's vanguard post-punk band Passo Torto (with Metá Metá's Kiko Dinucci) and several players from Bixiga 70. A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo, a collection of 11 songs (culled from over 50) focuses on the achievement of justice for women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community -- causes she had supported throughout her life. Issued in Brazil in October by Circus Produções Culturais, it was celebrated in the national press as the year's best album by a national artist, regardless of genre. The recording was selected as Album of the Year by the BBC, and other outlets. After numerous shows in Brazil and South America, Soares enlisted the same team -- Guilherme Kastrup as producer with assistance from Romulo Fróes, Marcelo Cabral, Rodrigo Campos, and Kiko Dinucci -- for her follow-up, Deus é Mulher ("God Is a Woman"). In accordance with its title and theme, Soares also enlisted a number of female instrumentalists for the project including Maria Portugal and Maria Beraldo, and recorded songs by Tulipa Ruiz and Alice Coutinho. The full-length was released in May of 2018 and charted inside the Top Ten on the International and Brazilian Albums charts. She continued to perform right up until her death at age 91 in January of 2022. Her passing led to a shower of tributes from the musicians she had influenced and the nation her music had inspired and epitomized for decades. ~ Alvaro Neder & Thom Jurek.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil