Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019: An Appreciation

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Bibi Ferreira in 2017 (Paula Johas/ PCRJ)

Bibi Ferreira 1922-2019

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Bibi Ferreira might not have been a household name in America, where she only performed her U.S. debut when she was already 91 years old – a memorable concert that took place at Alice Tully Hall in the fall of 2013 at Lincoln Center, when she sang a selection of songs from her long career, which spanned almost her entire life – but to Brazilians she was undoubtedly the greatest diva of Brazilian musical theater, cinema and TV.

When I heard that she had peacefully passed away at 96 in her Rio de Janeiro home on February 13, I thought of all the years I had seen her perform on Brazilian TV as a presenter, singer or even director – a role she took later in her years and also her numerous recordings, ranging from soundtracks of her musicals to Natal em Familia, a Christmas album (which turned out to be her last) she did in collaboration with numerous artists from her native country, including the late Emilio Santiago and samba singer Alcione.

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Me and Bibi Ferreira, 2016

Ferreira ran the gamut of pretty much every medium in Brazil, going from performing the songs of Edith Piaf and Fado queen Amalia Rodrigues to directing a full opera, which she mentioned on an interview I did with her for The Brasilians Newspaper was a huge undertaking since she had to rehearse not one but two full groups because sometimes last-minute subs are necessary.

Although she had become hard of hearing and physically frail in her final years, her voice was impeccable, and she reached all the notes without a hitch, not sounding at all line the nonagenarian she was. She had great range and was a great interpreter of pretty much every style she tackled. On her second (and final) New York show at Symphony Space in 2016, she performed a retrospective of her most important shows, going from her Sinatra tribute to the much-appreciated Piaf covers – which even impressed the French when she sang there over the decades.

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Cover of Bibi Ferreira: A Life on The Stage

Ferreira also released a coffee table book-sized book chronicling her career.  I was humbled to learn there was a quote from my review of her New York debut for All About Jazz. I was fortunate to have met her backstage after her second show and had my personal copy autographed – a possession I will cherish forever as a remembrance of this magnificent artist.

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My quote from All About Jazz in Bibi: A Life on Stage

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Ernest’s Annual Christmas Music Roundup: Putumayo’s “Latin Christmas” and Bibi Ferreira’s “Natal em Familia”

By Ernest Barteldes

This is of course the time of year when you cannot walk into a store anywhere in the nation without hearing the familiar chimes of sleigh bells and the cheerful melodies of tunes like “The Christmas Song,” “O Holy Night,” “Winter Wonderland” (which I think does not qualify as a Christmas song in the first place)” to questionable hits like “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk” or “Last Christmas.”

It is also the time when everyone from Celine Dion to Ann-Margret attempt to give their own take on the music of the season – and it’s not only about artists desperate for the spotlight but many who don’t actually need it: for instance, all four Beatles released Christmas music during their solo careers (the worst being Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and the best John’s “Merry Xmas – War Is Over”), and Queen did a Christmas single at the height of their fame (the dreadful “Thank God It’s Christmas”).

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As someone who writes about music, I am usually inundated with new Holiday-themed albums starting from as early as July (one year I got one before Memorial Day) but things were slower this time around – I guess the gods of music realized that my time has been a bit limited for this stuff, and from the ones I did get, here are two that I do highly recommend.

The first one is Putumayo Presents Latin Christmas, a highly enjoyable album because it doesn’t really sound like a Christmas album in the first place: it opens with a bossa version of “Joy to The World” performed by Arizona-based cover band Nossa Bossa Nova, a group that has adapted everything from the Rolling Stones to Bob Marley into bossas – some with pretty good results. My favorites, however, were the tunes that went completely outside the box. Poncho Sanchez offers a swinging n Afro-Cuban take on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” that gets you immediately moving, while UK-based Dave Stephens offers a bolero-inflected instrumental take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

Also notable are “El Año Viejo,” a cumbia celebrating the birth of the new year and also Susie Antoli’s s “La Peregrinacion,” a gentle Argentinean ballad that narrates the biblical story in which Mary and Joseph tried to find a place to sleep at the end of their journey to Bethlehem.

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Bibi Ferreira is one of Brazil’s greatest living legends – at 94 years of age as of this writing, she is actively performing throughout the Americas and Europe while still finding time to go into the studio to record new music.

Natal em Familia” (originally released in Brazil in 2012) brings together many traditional mostly performed as duets. The album kicks off with “Sinos de Belém” (Jingle Bells) done in an American Gospel/jazz style featuring samba singer Alcione and plenty of improvised instrumental solos from her touring band. Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Estrada do Sol” is a bit unexpected for this album but it ultimately makes sense since the lyrics speak of hope for better days to come. “Um Novo Tempo” is a Marcos Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle/Nelson Motta composition that was for many years used as Globo TV’s Holiday theme, but here it receives a more serious treatment as a more devotional feel featuring the voices of Ferreira, Joyce Candido, Ana Cristina and Mayra Freitas.

There are a few throwaways – it’s hard to understand why anyone thought having Ferreira and former kiddie show host Xuxa Meneghel duet on “Vem Que Vai Chegando o Natal” (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) would be a good idea, and it’s pretty cringe-worthy even if it has a nice swinging jazz backbeat. Also the late Emilio Santiago;s vocal chops are under-used in the beautiful ballad “Feliz Natal” – he had such a great range but here is reduced to singing in unison with Ferreira.

Other notable tracks are Schubert’s “Oh Noite Santa” (Oh Holy Night) performed by opera singer Max Wilson and of course the beautiful duet that Ferreira and pop singer Ronnie Von do on Schubert’s Ave Maria – gives you goose bumps even after repeated hearings.

Music Preview: Bibi Ferreira at Symphony Space, New York City

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By Ernest Barteldes

Bibi Ferreira

Tuesday, Sept. 20 & 23

Symphony Space

8 PM

I have known about the legendary Brazilian diva Bibi Ferreira for a very long time – she has a long history as a singer, producer, actress and director going from the 1940s to present. She is still active in spite of being 94 years young – and gives no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

I did two interviews with her for The Brasilians over the past few years and was surprised not only by how articulate she was on the phone and also by her fantastic memory – she can remember details of shows she did generations ago as if she had walked out of stage five minutes ago. I was even more amazed to hear her live at Alice Tully Hall – hard to believe is was her New York debut – and heard her sing an array of hard tunes ranging from Verdi to Chico Buarque and Piaf – as if they were nothing.

And then there was Liza Minelli’s hilarious surprise appearance, when they shared the mike for a snippet of “Theme from New York, New York” – a tune made famous by Frank Sinatra but actually introduced by Minelli (go ahead, Google it) in 1972.

On her current show Four Times Bibi, she pays tribute to fado queen Amalia Rodrigues, Piaf, tango legend Carlos Gardel and none other than our own Frank Sinatra – an evening that will bring together various genres together in what promises to be nothing short of amazing – a show that is not to be missed.