Amália. The name evokes countless deep feelings not only in the heart of Portuguese people but in many others all over the world. From those who have vivid recollections of Amália’s impact on the Portuguese culture to the youngest fans who only know her as “The Queen of Fado”, Amália is the watermark for greatness. On a date that wasn’t noted by anyone in her large and poor family, Amália Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues was born sometime in 1920 in Lisbon Portugal in what was said to be “the season of the cherries”. Later in her life when she had the means to celebrate her birthday, the date July 23, 1920, was arbitrarily chosen. Raised poor and without a musical mentor, Amália wasn’t handed her fame and worked hard, even against her own family, to be allowed into the music scene.
As a little girl, Amália sold fruit on the docks of Lisbon and sang while she worked. Outside of that, she was only allowed to sing in public Lisbon’s Summer festivities because she sang as part of the family’s neighborhood participation in a competition and parade. But when she was discovered by a Fado club owner, it was cause for a family war between her parents. Despite strong opposition from Amália’s mother, her father took her to the club and allowed her to sing there. In a twist of fate that worked greatly to her advantage, someone in the music industry noticed that she was bringing in an audience not normally seen in the Fado clubs of the time. He was appalled at how little she was being paid. With his help, she moved to a more prestigious club and performed there as she grew in fame. While she sang in the traditional, Lisbon-style Fado, the complexity of her singing style and stunning quality of her voice allowed her to reach beyond the stigma against Fado at the time. With what is called “the Amália Rodrigues phenomenon” Fado began its reformation from the music sung by those on the fringes of society to the much-loved and famed music of Portugal.
Amália became Portugal’s iconic fadista with a journey that took to unimaginable greatness all over the world. She mesmerized audiences everywhere with her soulful voice and classic beauty. But it wasn’t until her early 40s that the full breadth of her talent was unleashed. Amália’s music came to the attention of a brilliant composer. It was his opinion that a voice so perfect as Amália’s deserved a style of music beyond conventional Fado. This style maximized the magic of her voice with more extensions and even added traditional aspects of opera. This unrestricted range for Amalia’s voice, coupled with lyrics born from the best poets of the time, transformed Fado forever. With a new style of Fado adapted to the highest caliber of Portuguese modern and ancient poetry, Fado became music that was accepted by the most sophisticated listeners around the world. It remains a compelling style of music that transcends language and culture and will forever be the gift of love left to all by Portugal’s Amália.
The list of reasons to admire Amália may be endless. In addition to transforming the genre known as fado and giving Portugal the incredible gift of being a part of Amália’s roots, she recorded over 50 albums and sold over 30 million records, wrote many of her own songs, was named by Variety as one of the four best female singers in history, earned many awards and notable recognition around the world and was given a State Funeral and is the first woman laid to rest among the great Portuguese figures at the National Pantheon.
Amália remains Portugal’s most beloved artist and singer to date. With her 55-year career, she’s given the Portuguese culture something in common with the rest of the world with just one word-Amália.