The date on her birth record is the 23 July 1920. Given the doubts regarding the exact day, the artist adopted the 1 July as her birthday for the rest of her life.
Following her birthday and after having stayed for a short while in the capital looking for a better living, her parents returned to Fundão and left their daughter, then aged fourteen months, with her grandparents.
When she was six, her grandparents moved to the district of Alcântara, where Amália lived until she was 19 – first with her grandparents, then with her parents. She stopped her studies after finishing primary school because she needed to work to support her family. She was an apprentice seamstress and embroiderer and a worker at a chocolate and candy factory. Later on, together with her sister Celeste, she peddled fruit in the streets of the Alcântara pier and earned a percentage of the sales.
She showed her love for singing at a very early stage and in 1935 she was appointed soloist to sing “Fado Alcântara” on the occasion of the Popular Saints festivities, along with the Marcha Popular of her district.
In 1938 Amália had an audition for the “Spring Contest”, in which each Lisbon district presented a competing candidate. The prize to be awarded that year was Queen of Fado. Amália did not participate in the contest but there she met Francisco da Cruz, an amateur Portuguese guitar player whom she married in 1940. The marriage did not last long, although they only divorced in 1949. She married again in Brazil in 1961, to César Henrique de Seabra Rangel, her husband until his death in 1997.
Meanwhile, she continued to sing at parties and nightly feasts under the name Amália Rebordão. In 1938 the press published her first photograph and a very flattering story (Guitarra de Portugal, 10 August 1938). She only adopted the artistic name Amália Rodrigues later on, at the suggestion of Filipe Pinto, then artistic director of Solar da Alegria.
Santos Moreira encouraged her to have an audition at Retiro da Severa and she made her professional debut in 1939. She performed at this venue for six months and then moved to Solar da Alegria and Café Mondego. She had such smashing success that she soon became the main star of the cast. Due to José Melo, she began to sing at Café Luso and was paid like no other fado singer before her. At that time Amália was no longer performing on a daily basis, only singing four times a month and being paid for each performance.
As from 1941 her performances became increasingly rarer, although she could be heard singing in the city of Lisbon until the early 1950’s. She performed at Cervejaria Luso and Esplanada Luso, in 1941; at Casablanca, Pavilhão Português and Retiro dos Marialvas, in 1942; at Casablanca, Retiro dos Marialvas and Café Latino, in 1943; at Café Luso, in 1944 and from 1947 to 1950; at the Casino Estoril, in 1949 and 1950, and at the Comboio das Seis e Meia, a vaudeville show recorded at Teatro Politeama and then broadcasted on the radio, in 1950.
From the early 1950s onwards Amália Rodrigues toured abroad for long periods and her performances in Portugal were therefore limited to a few annual shows, like the Grande Noite do Fado, Natal dos Hospitais, the Casino Estoril Reveillon and other feasts and festivals, many of them charity shows.
Her first solo concert in Portugal took place on the 19 April 1985, at Lisbon’s Coliseu dos Recreios – then repeated at the Porto Coliseu one week later, on the 26 April.
She travelled abroad for the first time in 1943, to perform at a gala party held by the Portuguese ambassador in Madrid, Pedro Teotónio Pereira. She was accompanied by singer Júlio Proença and musicians Armandinho and Santos Moreira. In 1944 she travelled to Brazil and performed at Casino de Copacabana, Teatro João Caetano and Rádio Globo. She returned to Brazil in 1945 and stayed there until February 1946. During her stay, she did her first recordings – i.e. eight 78-rpm editions for Continental record house.
Amália travelled a lot and she frequently performed abroad during her long career, in the five continents. Amália Rodrigues, therefore, enjoyed an exceptional status, marked by a career filled with success and tours all over the world – not restricted to shows targeted at the Portuguese migrant communities.
In 1949, at the invitation of António Ferro, she performed in Paris and London. In 1950 she travelled to Madeira and abroad to participated in a series of shows sponsored by the Marshall Plan, in Berlin, Rome, Trieste, Dublin, Bern and Paris. In 1952 she performed in New York City for the first time, at La Vie en Rose, for 14 weeks in a row. In 1953 she sang at Ciudad de México and returned to New York City for participation in Eddie Fisher’s show. This was the first time a Portuguese artist appeared on US television.
In 1956, on the invitation of the impresario of the Olympia de Paris, Bruno Coquatrix, she had a smashing success at this concert hall. Then she performed at Côte d’ Azur, Belgium, Algeria, Rio de Janeiro and Ciudad de México.
In 1957 she returned to Olympia, accompanied by musicians Domingos Camarinha (Portuguese guitar) and Santos Moreira (Spanish guitar). She had other shows at this hall in 1959 and 1960. In 1957 she also performed in Côte d’ Azur, Stockholm, Lausanne and Caracas.
Amália Rodrigues returned to Brazil with many shows in 1960 and 1961. In 1963 she sang “Foi Deus” at Saint Francis’ church on the occasion of the anniversary of Lebanon’s independence. In the 1960’s she performed in Tunes, Algiers, Sidi Abbes, Brussels and Athens. She participated in the Festival of Edinburgh and performed in various cities in Israel, at the I International Music Festival of Brasov, in Leningrad, Moscow, Tiflis, Erevan and Baku, among other cities and countries.
In 1970 she travelled to Japan for the first time, where she returned in 1976, 1986 and 1990. In 1972 she performed in Australia. During the 1970s and the 1980’s she kept her performing tours in several countries.
In 1989 she had a performance recorded for Spanish television, in the context of a show presented by Sara Montiel. Also in 1989, she celebrated the 50th anniversary of professional activity with a great tour to Spain, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Israel, India, Macao, Korea, Japan, Belgium, USA and Italy. During such tour, she had her eighth performance at the Olympia de Paris.
The performances of Amália Rodrigues can also be seen in the theatre and in cinema, as well as heard in innumerable recordings on disc.
She made her debut in theatre in 1940, at Teatro Maria Vitória, with the play “Ora vai tu!”. Until 1947 Amália Rodrigues joined the cast of many vaudeville and operetta shows, namely “Espera de Toiros” (Teatro Variedades, 1941), “Essa é que é essa” (Teatro Maria Vitória, 1942), “Boa Nova” (Teatro Variedades, 1942), “Alerta está!” (Teatro Apolo, 1943), “A Rosa cantadeira”, “Ó viva da costa!” and “A Senhora da Atalaia” (Teatro Apolo, 1944); “Boa Nova” and “A Rosa cantadeira” (rerun at Teatro República, in Brazil, 1945), “Estás na Lua”, and rerun of “Mouraria” (Teatro Apolo, 1946); and “Se aquilo que a Gente Sente” (Teatro Variedades, 1946).
Her come-back to the theatre only occurred in 1955, for the re-run of play “Severa” produced by Vasco Morgado at Teatro Monumental.
Amália’s relationship with cinema began with the performance of the role Maria Lisboa, co-starring Alberto Ribeiro in the film “Capas Negras” directed by Armando Miranda. The movie premiered at the Condes theatre on the 16 May 1947. That same year she starred, together with Virgílio Teixeira, the film “Fado, História de uma Cantadeira” directed by Perdigão Queiroga. She also participated, together with Jaime Santos and Santos Moreira in shorts directed by Augusto Fraga, i.e. “Fado da Rua do Sol”, “Fado Malhoa”, “Fado Amália”, “Fado lamentos”, “O meu amor na vida (Confesso)”, “Só à Noitinha”, “Ronda dos Bairros”, “Eu disse adeus à casinha” and “Ai! Lisboa”.
She returned to cinema in 1949, co-starring Manuel dos Santos in the film “Sol e Toiros” by José Buchs, and Paulo Maurício in the film “Vendaval Maravilhoso”, by Leitão de Barros. In 1955 she co-starred Daniel Gelin in the film “Les Amants du Tage (Os Amantes do Tejo)” by Henri Verneuil, in which she performed the song “Barco Negro”, with lyrics by David Mourão Ferreira. In 1955, with António dos Santos, she filmed “April in Portugal” by Evan Lloyd.
Her last participations in movies date back from 1958, in film “Sangue Toureiro”, by Augusto Fraga, in which she sang fado “Que Deus me Perdoe”, 1964, as feature character of filme “Fado Corrido”, by Jorge Brum do Canto, based on a short story by David Mourão Ferreira and 1965, in two films, i.e. “As Ilhas Encantadas”, by Carlos Vilardebó, shot at Porto Santo, and “Via Macao”, by Jean Leduc.
Amália Rodrigues also introduced important innovations in the behaviour and costumes of fado singers, which would become true performing conventions. For example, always wearing a black dress and shawl and standing in front of the musicians.
Her interest in erudite poetry was another novelty. In the early 1950s, Amália Rodrigues recorded “Fria Claridade” by Pedro Homem de Mello and in 1953, the poem “Primavera” by David Mourão-Ferreira. Her collaboration with these two poets would last long and later on, she would borrow lyrics from other poets, namely Luiz Macedo and Sidónio Muralha (1954), Alexandre O’Neill (1964), José Régio (1965), Vasco de Lima Couto (1967), Manuel Alegre and José Carlos Ary dos Santos (1970).
In 1962 the singer launched her first LP with compositions by Alain Oulman, often referred to as Amália’s “operas”. This record, called “Busto” or “Asas Fechadas”, began a collaboration that would last until 1975. It included dis recordings in which the singer performed, in addition to the poets mentioned above, poems of the past from the Galician-Portuguese troubadours, the Cancioneiro de Garcia de Resende and Camöens, resulting in records that would become landmarks in the history of fado – i.e. “Fado Português”, “Fado’67”, “Vou dar de beber à dor” and “Com que voz”. In 1965, Amália Rodrigues published the record Amália canta Luís de Camões and daily newspaper Diário Popular, in its edition of the 23 October 1965, questioned several public figures on the legitimacy of such performances, with this controversy making the first page headlines.
Amália was the author of many of the poems she sang and published on record, some of which are her most important hits. These poems were published in 1997 in the book “Versos”, by publisher Cotovia. A few of her titles, for example, are “Estranha forma de vida”, “Lágrima”, “Asa de vento”, “Grito”, “Gostava de ser quem era”, “Trago o fado nos sentidos”, “Entrei na vida a cantar”, “Ai esta pena de mim”, “Lavava no rio lavava”, “Teus olhos são duas fontes”, “Fui ao mar buscar sardinhas”.
Her official biography, by Vítor Pavão dos Santos, was published in 1987 based on interviews made between the 15 November 1985 and the 16 September 1986. Written as a personal testimony, it is a key document to understand the career of the most important Portuguese fado singer.
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of her professional career in 1989 was marked by a number of events that lasted until 1990, namely a show at Coliseu dos Recreios, on the 8 January 1990; the exhibition “Amália Rodrigues. 50 Anos”, at Museu Nacional do Teatro, from June 1989 to March 1990; the cinema retrospective “Amália no Cinema”, at the Portuguese Cinemathèque, in November 1989; and a great tour with shows in Spain, France, Switzerland, Israel, India, Macao, Korea, Japan, Belgium, USA and Italy.
She retired from the stage in 1994. After that Amália continued to be invited as an honoured guest of many cultural events, namely during the Marchas Populares in Lisbon, on Saint Anthony’s day. In 1998 she was paid a public tribute during a show at Expo’98, in Lisbon’s Nations’ Park.
She died on the 6 October 1999. Her funeral was an unseen heartfelt display of grief, pain and nostalgia. The entire nation mourned her as their Fado Diva. Her remains were carried from the Prazeres Cemetery to the National Pantheon on the 8 July 2001.
Amália Rodrigues is an indisputable figure in the History of Fado and is, therefore, a key reference in the permanent exhibition of Museu do Fado. In June 2004 the Museu do Fado presented “Amália, Gostava de Ser Quem Era”, an exhibition recalling the fado singer which remained open to the public for one year.
In her will, the singer set up Fundação Amália Rodrigues, officially created on the 10 December 1999, two months after her death. This foundation has held an annual gala since 2005, awarding the following prizes: Female and Male Career, Female and Male Revelation, International, Ethnic Music, Spanish Guitar, Bass Guitar, Portuguese Guitar, Female and Male Singer, Disc Record, Fado Poet, Fado Composer, Symphonic Music, Amateur Fado and Essay & Dissemination