The Queen of Samba, one of the most important Brazilian singers, the voice of the millenium, and countless other superlatives described Elza Gomes da Conceição, or Elza Soares, who died yesterday in Rio de Janeiro at age 91. Ismael Corrêa, the producer of her second LP “A Bossa Negra”, released in 1962, wanted to tag her as the Sarah Vaughan of the favelas. But she was much more than that. She won a talent contest in 1953, initiated by the legendary Ary Barroso, later sang the pop songs of the day, worked in musicals and radio, and even performed with Louis Armstrong at the 1962 football world cup in Chile. That’s where she met her future husband, football star Garrincha.
Her husky voice, which was always on the edge of a little drama, in combination with her pretty eccentric and outgoing style, fascinated not only her Brazilian fans, but people the world over. She traveled and lived between Brazil, the US, and Europe in the 70s and 80s. Needless to say, she had a lot of chart hits. Probably the two most acclaimed albums of hers are the aforementioned “A Bossa Negra” and the 1972 big band album “Elza Pede Passagem”, produced by Dom Salvador, brilliantly merging samba and soul.
Elza never stopped recording or performing. She received a Grammy nomination for her 2002 album “Do Cóccix Até O Pescoço”, where she worked with superstars Jorge Ben Jor, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, or Carlinhos Brown. More recently, she collaborated with contemporary Brazilian samba artists. She never let herself become a nostalgia act, but was always on the lookout for new adventures up until her eighties. In November 2016, she played in Berlin as part of her tour for “The Woman At The End Of The World” album, a pretty incandescent set of dirty samba with avantgarde musicians from Sao Paulo, tackling topics like drug abuse, domestic violence, sex addiction, and racism. As eccentric, apocalyptic, avantgarde and experimental the music on that particular album, so was her demeanor, outfit, and performance.