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.
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.
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.