Regina, Elis (1945–1982)

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Regina, Elis (1945–1982)

Popular Brazilian vocalist. Born Elis Regina Carvalho Costa on March 17, 1945, in Porto Alegre, Brazil; died of a cocaine and alcohol overdose on January 19, 1982, in São Paulo, Brazil; married Ronaldo Boscoli (a composer and producer), in 1967 (divorced six years later); married César Camargo Mariano (a pianist, divorced eight years later); children: (first marriage) João Marcelo; (second marriage) Pedro and Maria Rita.

Sang on-air on the children's radio show "Clube do Guri" and won the show prize at age 12; signed first professional contract at age 13 with Radio Gaucha;

recorded first album (1961); won Queen of the Disco Club award (1961); awarded Best Singer of The Year (1962); won first prize at her first big music festival (1965); ranked as highest-paid singer in Brazil (1966).

Selected albums:

Dois Na Bossa, with Jair Rodrigues (1965); Elis Regina & Toots Thielemans (1969); Elis Regina in London (1969); … Em Plena Verão (1970); Elis & Tom, with Antonio Carlos Jobim (1974); Elis, Essa Mulher (1979); Elis Regina—Montreux Jazz Festival (recorded 1979, released 1982); Elis Regina—Personalidade (1989, posthumous).

Elis Regina was born the eldest child of a rather poor family in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1945. Her mother, a housewife, was Portuguese, and her father, who was seldom steadily employed, was Brazilian. Elis listened to Argentinean radio stations in her family home, and could sing in both Spanish and Portuguese at a very young age. A bright girl, by the time she started grade school she was already reading, writing and counting. At age seven, she attempted to sing on a local children's radio show, "Clube do Guri," but froze at the microphone. At nine, she was shining at her piano lessons, but her family could not afford a piano, so she pursued singing instead.

At age 12, Regina returned to "Clube do Guri" and this time not only overcame her stage fright, but won the prize and the audience. Although still hounded by stage fright—even into her adult life—she sang on the show almost weekly for the following two years, and soon signed her first radio contract with Radio Gaucha. Before reaching age 14, she was a local celebrity and making a better income than her father. At 15, she went to Rio de Janeiro to record her first album, and then two more, and although she intended to return home in between each recording she eventually decided to remain in Rio de Janeiro with her father, who was in search of work there. Her first album came out in 1961, and by 1962 the fiery, driven young woman had two awards on her resumé: Queen of the Disco Club and Best Singer of the Year.

Determined to make a name for herself in Rio's competitive music business, Regina used a fake birth certificate so she could sing in nightclubs, and soon snared a television contract. She was rocketing to fame by age 20, interpreting classic bossa nova tunes in her own passionate style for appreciative São Paulo and Rio audiences. Sometimes she daringly introduced unknown songs by young new composers, or became combative with interviewers and composers. Her brash attitude was seen as irreverent; it made her some enemies and cost her some commercial backing, but it was also a source of her popularity. At a popular music festival in 1965, she sang a controversial song that had almost been censored by the military government in power at the time. Finishing the song with arms outstretched, smiling, and with tears in her eyes, Elis Regina thus began her lifelong career as Brazil's reigning diva. By 1966, at only 21, she was the country's highestpaid vocalist.

Regina's personal life was as intense as her performances on stage. A meticulous organizer and demanding perfectionist, she was also temperamental and insecure about her lack of education. She faced a dilemma with her family, guilty about their economic need, but wanting to be free to build her career. As a result, relations with them were always problematic. She called her friendships "eternal" but would sometimes privately disparage her friends. She admitted her mistrust of others and said she doubted "everything" except her stage. Her first marriage, at age 22, to composer-producer Ronaldo Boscoli was stormy for its entire six-year duration. After their divorce, she held a bitter grudge against him, even making it hard for him to see their son. Her second marriage, to pianist César Camargo Mariano, with whom she was working on an album, was happier and more serene, but also ended in divorce after eight years and two children.

From the mid-1960s until the day she died, Regina was one of Brazil's best-loved and wellknown performers, and enjoyed a career marked by few slumps. Some critics have said that with her stage presence and ear for language she could have become one of the world's greatest singers if she had wanted to. Her successes at music festivals of the mid-1960s were followed by a highly popular three-year collaboration with singer Jair Rodrigues. As the 1960s ended, she toured Europe, and recorded in Sweden with Toots Thielemans and in London with Peter Knight. In 1974, she recorded the celebrated album Elis & Tom in Los Angeles with Brazilian pop-music virtuoso Antonio Carlos Jobim. From the mid-1970s through 1981, her dance, music, and mime stage shows, Falso Brilhante, Essa Mulher, Saudade do Brasil and Trem Azul were huge triumphs.

About the time her second marriage was ending, Regina secretly began using cocaine. By December 1981, she had fallen in love with her lawyer Samuel MacDowell. They planned to marry the following year, but in January 1982 she was found dead in her bedroom, having accidentally overdosed on a mix of Cinzano and cocaine. Brazilians suddenly lost their legendary queen of popular music, the petite enchantress with a giant voice to whom they had given the fitting nicknames Furaçao (hurricane) and Pimentinha (little pepper).

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada