On Jan. 20, the Brazilian samba legend Elza Soares has died at the age of 91. Through an official statement, the late singer’s team shared on her social media accounts: “With much sadness and sorrow, we inform the passing of singer and composer Elza Soares, aged 91 years old, at 15 hours and 45 minutes at her home in Rio de Janeiro, due to natural causes.”
Translated by The Brazilian Rep, the statement continued: “The beloved and eternal Elza has been laid to rest, but she will forever be in the history of music and in our hearts, and the hearts of thousands of fans around the world. Like Elza Soares wanted, she sang until the very end.”
A child of the 1930s from a Rio de Janeiro favela, Soares started her career in her teens after winning a radio competition. The influential bossa nova composer Ronaldo Bôscoli once described her as “the strongest woman that Brazil ever produced.”
Soares started off her iconic career by singing “Se Acaso Você Chegasse” (If You Came Around) in 1959, a sambalanço song. She would reign in the genre through the 1960s. During this time, she also ventured into the en vogue bossa nova genre with the 1961 record “Bossa Negra,” trading the style’s smoothness for improvised scatting and her raspy voice.
During her six-decade-spanning career, she released 34 albums where she would flow between samba, jazz, hip-hop, Brazilian funk, and electronica. Soares’ versatility plus her strong and easily recognizable voice kept her relevant through generations. Her music was characterized by her powerful voice and swaying her way through different notes and musical styles.
Ever-evolving and adapting over the years, she frequently collaborated with younger artists and also opened doors for them, such as rapper Rafael Mike, the rock-reggae group BaianaSystem, and singer Flávio Renegado. Soares’ last Twitter post was tweeted on Jan. 14, showing support for LGBTQIA+ singer Linn da Quebrada, who joined the Brazilian version of the reality show Big Brother. With Linn, she recorded the song “Meu Bairro, Minha Língua” (My Neighborhood, My Language).
Soares never shied away from her Afro-Brazilian heritage. The 2002 song “A Carne” (The Meat) exposed the racial issues still lingering in Brazil, singing: “The cheapest cut on the market is black meat.” Being so vocal about Black emancipation got Soares blacklisted by the Brazilian dictatorial government from 1964 to 1985, which led to her exile in Italy.
Among her many accolades, the talented veteran was voted singer of the last millennium by the BBC in 1999. Soares also performed at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
A new album had been announced to be released this year, which would also include a DVD of one of her shows. In the last few years of her life, Soares would sing sitting in a chair due to back issues caused by a 1999 stage fall, which was only aggravated by the use of high heels. Still, her image remained majestic.