If you spend time in Lisbon, or anywhere in Portugal for that matter, you will come across the name Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues, the queen of fado. She is memorialized in cafes, bars, and even street art across the country.
Amália, as she was popularly known, was born on July 23, 1920, in Lisbon. It was here, in the capital city, that she was left in the care of her maternal grandparents. Moving to Alcántara at six years old, she stayed in this neighborhood until she was 19 and already a fadista. And you thought nothing ever happened in Alcántara!
She left school after primary education, apprenticing as a seamstress, among other things. She passed through a variety of manual jobs, such as working at a chocolate factory and selling fruit with her sister around the Alcántara quays.
In 1938, Amália auditioned for the Concurso da Primavera, where neighborhoods battle to have the Queen of Fado. Alas, she did not make it into the competition, but continued to sing — and eventually made her professional debut in 1939. She rapidly garnered fame, and in a couple of years was earning enough to sing just a handful of times a month and make her way into film.
Her debut movie was Capas Negras in 1946, and she starred in her most famous film, Fado, just a year later. During this same period, she began to build her international reputation, traveling to Spain in 1943, her first time outside of Portugal, and to Brazil in 1944.
For the next 50 years, she performed live shows around Europe and the world, pushing the boundaries of fado and popularizing it as a genre. Amália also appeared in numerous films, television programs, and theatre productions throughout her career, receiving accolades for both her singing and non-singing roles.
Following the Carnation Revolution of 1974, her reputation suffered some damage when she was accused of collaborating with the recently toppled regime. However, these claims were quelled and Amália’s position in the hearts of the people was restored.
In 1990, she was awarded the Ordem Militar de Sant’Iago da Espada, one of Portugal’s highest honors. Amália performed her last show in December 1994, at the age of 74. Five years later, on October 6, 1999, she died.
Her passing sparked three days of mourning across the country and campaigning for the general elections ground to a halt. Since then, her home has been attached to the Fundação Amália Rodrigues. Arguably the single most notable name in Portuguese music, Amália remains the best-selling Portuguese artist in history.