Angela Maria, 89, Brazilian singer who inspired a generation, dies
By Lis Moriconi
11 October 2018
Angela Maria, the Brazilian singer who became a national sensation in the 1950s and inspired a generation of artists with her piercing, sometimes hoarse, often melancholy voice, died on 29 September 2018, in São Paulo. She was 89.
Her husband, Daniel D’Angelo, announced the death in a video posted on her Facebook page.
Angela Maria had a wildly successful recording career and performed in sold-out halls well into her 80s, her voice still vibrant. She was equally at home performing tangos, cha-chas and boleros. She recorded more than 650 songs and appeared in 20 films.
She was also the subject of intense tabloid scrutiny. At a time when divorce was frowned upon in Brazil, she broke a cultural taboo by marrying four times, most controversially to Mr. D’Angelo, with whom she had moved in when she was 52 and he was 18.
She once explained the popularity of her music by noting that it drew on the heartache of Brazilians, a people well acquainted with hardship. But its appeal was universal.
“Everybody suffers,” she said in a television interview in 1988. “And this suffering is what I convey through the songs I sing.”
Unlike other radio stars of her era, she retained a strong following during the bossa nova and tropicália eras in the late 1950s and 1960s. She was still performing frequently when samba made a comeback in the ’70s and weathered changing styles into the ’90s.
“Angela came out of the Italian bel canto tradition and had Latin American influence, especially the bolero,” said Rodrigo Faour, who wrote a biography of her. “Her voice is powerful, it’s warm and mesmerizing, it’s not music you can put on in the background. And it had an ‘open sesame’ effect. Every time she sang, doors opened.”
She was born Abelim Maria da Cunha in Conceição de Macabu, Rio de Janeiro State, on 13 May 1929, the 10th child of Albertino Coutinho Cunha, a farmer who later became a Baptist pastor, and Julita Maria da Cunha. Because the family was very poor, Abelim spent part of her childhood living in other households, sometimes doing menial work.
Her talent was first spotted when she sang in churches as a teenager. Eager to sing for larger audiences, she would sneak out of services against the wishes of her family to compete in amateur radio competitions, which she entered under what would ultimately become her stage name. The competitions yielded prizes, which she stashed in a shoe box at home. She soon began entertaining the idea of recording an album.
As a young adult, she made a meager living working in a factory, where she dazzled colleagues by belting out semi-operatic songs like Gounod’s “Ave Maria.”
Angela Maria became an instant hit when radio stations began playing her first records in the early 1950s. By the end of the decade, having won numerous awards and become the country’s most well-paid singer, she began hosting live television shows. She maintained a punishing schedule, often shuttling between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Among her biggest hits were the rumba “Babalu” and the ballads "Labios de mel" ("Honey lips"), “Não Tenho Você” (“I Don’t Have You”) and “Vá, mas Volte” (“Leave, but Come Back”).
Her music had an impact on many prominent Brazilian musicians, including Milton Nascimento, Maria Bethânia and Djavan. The renowned singer Elis Regina said she had been “tremendously influenced” by Angela Maria.
The Brazilian singer and actress Carmen Miranda was also a fan. Angela Maria was startled to learn that Ms. Miranda — who was older and had became a luminary in Hollywood — was an avid collector of her albums.
Ms. Miranda contacted her to request a meeting 14 years after leaving Brazil. “She was my idol,” Angela Maria said. “When I heard she wanted to see me I froze.”
Along with Ms. Miranda and Dalva de Oliveira, Mr. Faour said, “Angela became the matrix of Brazilian singers.” He added, “She gave popular composers powerful, sophisticated renditions.”
Angela Maria married Mr. D’Angelo on her birthday in 2012, after they had been together for 33 years. In addition to him, she is survived by four children.
Angela Maria was sometimes chided for her over-the-top rendition of songs and her flashy dresses. She took the criticism as a compliment.
“It makes me proud,” she once said. “Brazilians are gaudy.”
A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 12, 2018, on Page B13 of the New York edition with the headline: Angela Maria, 89, Aching Voice of Brazil’s Melancholy.