Iconic Brazilian singer Elza Soares has died, aged 91

“I am part of the voice of the people of Brazil and it is the people who make me sing,” Soares said in a 2004 interview

Elza Soares, a legendary Brazilian singer with over three dozen albums to her name, has died at the age of 91.

Her passing was confirmed in a statement shared to social media last night (January 20), with a group of her family and team members noting that she died at 3:45pm Thursday in her Rio de Janeiro home. It’s reported that she died of natural causes.

Writing that Soares “had an apotheotic, intense life that moved the world with her voice, her strength and her determination”, the singer’s reps celebrated her legacy by declaring: “The beloved and eternal Elza has rested, but she will forever be in the history of music and in our hearts and the thousands of fans around the world.

“With Elza Soares’s wishes made, she sang until the end.”

Born in 1930 to a factory worker and washerwoman, Soares gravitated towards music in her youth. Her father Gomes was a guitarist, and often played for Soares as she learned to sing. Her career wouldn’t start until the late 1950s, however, as at age 12, she was forced into marriage, and by 21 was a widow with four children and a dead-end job at a soap factory.

Her breakthrough came in 1960 with the jazz-influenced samba single ‘Se Acaso Você Chegasse’, which saw her blend Louis Armstrong-styled scatting with traditional Brazilian music. Soares quickly became renowned for her strong, husky voice and authoritative swagger, and after moving to São Paulo in her early 30s, she became a staple of the nightclub samba scene.

Infamy struck Soares at the age of 32, when she began dating the famed soccer player known mononymously as Garrincha. She was accused of breaking up his marriage, received death threats and had her house vandalised on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, her career continued to soar, and she went on to represent Brazil in the 1962 FIFA World Cup, singing the national anthem.

In 1968, Soares performed for Queen Elizabeth II during the latter’s visit to Brazil. She reportedly earned the Queen’s approval, boasting after the performance that “she even broke protocol by tapping along to the rhythm with her feet”.

The ‘70s came with a whirlwind of international touring, with runs in the US and Europe making Soares a household name across the globe. She pushed the boundaries of Brazilian music, going against cultural norms to tackle themes of class consciousness, race and societal inequality. She was a staunch activist for Black, gay and female rights, especially as her career moved into the 21st century.

In 2000, the BBC declared Soares the Best Singer of the Millennium. Two years later, her album ‘Do Cóccix Até O Pescoço’ earned the singer her first of many nominations at the Latin Grammys.

Though her output waned as the years went by, Soares continued to work until her final days; she released a further six records after ‘Do Cóccix Até O Pescoço’, earning particular acclaim for her 2015 album ‘A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo’, and its follow-up, 2018’s ‘Deus É Mulher’. Her final full-length effort, ‘Planeta Fome’, landed in October of 2019.

“I am part of the voice of the people of Brazil and it is the people who make me sing,” Soares said in a 2004 interview with The Independent. “The voice of the people is such a strong echo that if I do not match it, I will have no reason to go on singing.”

Soares’ wake will be held at Rio de Janeiro’s Theatro Municipal today (January 21). A private ceremony will be held between 8am and 10am, with the public allowed to pay their respects from 10am to 2pm.

Take a look at some tributes to Soares below:

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