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Amália Rodrigues

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Lisbon, Portugal (1920 – 1999)

Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues (1920–1999) was a Portuguese singer and actress.

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, official documents have her date of birth as the 23rd July, but Rodrigues always said her birthday was the 1st July 1920. She was born in the rua Martim Vaz (Martim Vaz Street), freguesia of Pena, Lisbon. Her father was a trumpet player and cobbler from Fundão who returned there when Amália was just over a year old, leaving her to live in Lisbon with her maternal grandmother in a deeply Catholic environment until she was fourteen, when her parents returned to the capital and she moved back in with them.

She was known as the “Rainha do Fado” (“Queen of Fado”), and was most influential in popularising fado worldwide. She was unquestionably the most important figure in the genre’s development, by virtue of an innate interpretive talent carefully nurtured throughout a forty-year recording and stage career. Rodrigues’ performances and choice of repertoire pushed fado’s boundaries and helped redefine it and reconfigure it for her and subsequent generations. In effect, Rodrigues wrote the rulebook on what fado could be and on how a female singer - or fadista - should perform it, to the extent that she remains an unsurpassable model and an unending source of repertoire for all those who came afterwards.

After a few years of amateur performances, Rodrigues’ first professional engagement in a fado venue took place in 1939, and she quickly became a regular guest star in stage revues. There she met Frederico Valério, a classically-trained composer who, recognising the potential in such a voice, wrote expansive melodies custom-designed for Rodrigues’ voice, breaking the rules of fado by adding orchestral accompaniment.

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