I’ve been enjoying NPR’s 50 Great Voices series, and the holiday break gave me a chance to catch up with some missed episodes, including their piece on Amália Rodrigues. Since I’m half Portuguese, I enjoy finding instances where Portuguese and American culture collide, mix, and transmute. Rodrigues embraced other cultures’ musical traditions in order to offer her unique spin on fado, and that combined with her voice and emotive range turned her into an icon celebrated long past her death. The NPR reporter brought up an anecdote involving Rodrigues and Fred Astaire that I hadn’t heard before.

Rodrigues went to New York for a risky throat operation. Doctors weren’t sure if her voice would recover from the procedure. Depressed, Rodrigues considered killing herself with sleeping pills. Instead she ended up watching Fred Astaire movies in her hotel room. The man that had gotten so many Americans through the Great Depression by offering some hope and cheer via the big screen worked his magic through the small screen.  He helped Rodrigues through her depression. She didn’t kill herself, and she underwent what turned out to be a successful surgery. Her voice fully recovered, and she returned to Portugal, and her subsequent concerts added to her legend.

A clip of the singer performing Barco Negro in the film Les Amants du Tage (1955) follows. While the film is French and in French, she keeps her lyrics in their original Portuguese. The camera breaks away from her to further the plot by having characters translate her song for the female lead, and once they’ve said enough for the song to resonate for both leads and the film’s audience, the cameraman wisely returns to Rodrigues for the song’s climax. Her charisma is palpable. For English subtitles, click the closed captioning box.

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