When you first hear about Elza Soares, you’d be forgiven for being sidetracked by her remarkable story. And remarkable it truly is.

Soares was raised in Rio favela and was married off when she was only 12 years old. At the age of 13, she had her first child. The undue financial burden children placed on a girl who was only a child herself led her to attempt to make money in a talent show, where she was discovered as a singer.

She continued to work and pursue a musical career throughout her teens, and achieved breakout success in 1961 with “Bossa Negra,” a now legendary bossa nova track that hit at the height of the worldwide bossa nova craze. This success only came after she had suffered the tragic loss of one of her sons and her husband.

Her breakout afforded her the opportunity to travel to the 1962 World Cup, where she met Louis Armstrong and Brazilian soccer star Garrincha, the latter of whom she would have a torrid love affair with, leading to their marriage in 1968.

Those close to Garrincha and the greater Brazilian public never accepted Soares, consistently verbally abusing her and accusing her of breaking up Garrincha’s first marriage, a grave sin in a deeply Catholic nation and a sexist tendency that placed no blame on the immensely popular soccer player himself.

Nevertheless, Soares was a high-profile and outspoken person. One of the main causes she championed was the plight of her fellow Afro-Brazilians who often suffered silently in a segregated nation led by an indifferent military dictatorship. Her outspokenness led to Soares being blacklisted by the government and she was forced to flee Brazil and live abroad in exile.

Tragedy continued to mark her life, even after she returned to Brazil in the ’80s upon the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship. Her mother died in a drunk driving accident where Garrincha was the driver, Garrincha himself died of cirrhosis, and her only son with Garrincha died in a separate car accident as well.

And yet she still continued on and today is recognized as an iconic figure in music worldwide.

A musical career we barely even touched on. I told you her remarkable life was easy to get sidetracked on.

But listen to her music, and you can hear the uniquely throaty voice that attracted admirers like Armstrong. Her latest album The Woman at the End of the World has her working still in full force, continuing to attract fans to her sound and her craft.

And in a way, her life story doesn’t sidetrack from her music because her life is so much a part of her art. Her entire life, she’s worked tirelessly to be a platform for the voices of the oppressed because many people in her past have tried to constrain her. And yet she continued to stand strong and continues “to talk about women, to talk about blackness, and to talk about sex.”

As part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York 2017 and in partnership with Brasil Summerfest and the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage, Elsa Soares will be performing at The Town Hall on Friday, May 19th with an opener from the New York native Brazilian percussion collective Forro In The Dark.

Elza Soares with Forro In The Dark

Date & Time:
May 19th, 2017 | 8 PM

The Town Hall
123 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Age Restriction:
All Ages

Tickets | Contest

Elza Soares RBMA poster

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