Official documents give her date of birth as 23 July, although Amália herself maintained that her birthday was actually 1 July 1920. She was born in the Pena parish of Lisbon, Portugal. Her maternal family had roots in Souto da Casa, a parish in Fundão, Central Portugal, where Rodrigues's grandfather worked as a blacksmith.
In the Parish Church of Fundão is the baptism certificate of Rodrigues, a document also published in the Journal of Fundão after the singer's death, following an investigation by or Salvado J. Travassos who also discovered her birth certificate. According to the testimony of José Filipe Duarte Gonçalves, her only sister, Odette, was born in Lisbon (in addition to another child who died). Rodrigues grew up in poverty. Her childhood was almost destitute and she grew up doing odd jobs like selling fruit in Lisbon's quays.
Rodrigues started singing as an amateur around 1935. Her first professional engagement in a fado venue took place in 1939, and she quickly became a regular guest star in stage revues. Around that time she met Frederico Valério, a classically trained composer who immediately recognised Amália's potential and composed numerous melodies especially designed for her voice. Valério also ventured beyond the fado musical traditions by adding orchestral accompaniments. Some of those works are fado classics today, such as 'Fado do Ciúme', 'Ai Mouraria', 'Que Deus Me Perdoe', and 'Não Sei Porque Te Foste Embora.'
By the early 40's, Amália had become a famous singer in Portugal.
Rodrigues began acting with a debut film in 1946 titled 'Capas Negras' followed by her best known movie, 'Fado' (1947).
She gained popularity beyond Portugal, in countries like Spain, Brazil (where, in 1945, she made her first recordings on Brazilian label Continental) where she spent some time and Paris (1949) where she resided. In 1950, while performing at the Marshall Plan international benefit shows, she introduced the song 'April in Portugal' to international audiences, under its original title "Coimbra".
In the early 1950s, the patronage of Portuguese poet David Mourão-Ferreira marked the beginning of a new phase in her career: Rodrigues sang with many of the country's poets, and some wrote lyrics specifically for her. Her relationship with poetry contributed to changes in traditional fado and elevated this traditionally working-class Lisbon music genre, to new dimensions whereby leading poets started collaborating with and writing specifically for her.
Rodrigues performed abroad in Spain (1943), Brasil (1945) with her first recordings, Berlin (1950), Mexico, France and many other countries, becoming an international star artist by 1954. She was the first Portuguese artist to appear to American television audiences on ABC in 1953. She also performed in Hollywood, singing at the Mocambo in 1954.
Also in 1954, Rodrigues' international career was boosted by her featuring in Henri Verneuil's film The Lovers of Lisbon (Les Amants du Tage), where she had a supporting role. By the late 1950s the US, Britain, and France had become her major international markets; followed by Japan and Italy in the 1970s. In France she almost as popular as in Portugal, and she often performed at the prestigious parisian Olympia hall. This led to the release of the album Portugal's Great Amália Rodrigues Live at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, in 1957, on Monitor Records (now under Smithsonian Folkways). Over the years, she performed nearly all over the world – going as far as the then Soviet Union and Israel.
In France during the 50-60's she often performed on television and became a well-known artist. Famous Charles Aznavour even wrote a fado in French especially for her 'Aie Mourir Pour Toi' and she also created French versions of her own songs (Coimbra became Avril au Portugal, among others). She performed at Olympia for 10 seasons between 1956 and 1992.
She then said she would sing only once in a while, but after a year's absence, she was no longer able to resist the appeal of the music. She returned in 1962 concentrating on recording and performing live, by then at a slower pace.
Her comeback album, 1962's Amália Rodrigues, was her first collaboration with French composer Alain Oulman (1929–1990), who was to become her main songwriter and musical producer over decades. Oulman wrote melodies for her which transcended the conventions of fado. Oulman, created an album, also known as 'Busto' (Bust), with a different kind of fado, with more extensions and which added traditional opera aspects: the legatos, the extension of the voice. Also in that record she sang her own poems ('Estranha Forma de Vida') and poems written by great Portuguese poets, like Pedro Homem de Mello, David Mourão-Ferreira and others. She created longlife successes, which became classics and immortal songs in Portugal, like 'Povo Que Lavas no Rio', 'Maria Lisboa' and 'Abandono'. Oulman, a left-wing intellectual, was arrested by Portugal's political police (known as PIDE) in 1966, and forced into exile, but he continued contributing with his music for Amália. He left behind many work which she made sure she recorded in later years.
She resumed her stage-career singing all over the world, including Israel, the UK, France, and returning to the USA for Promenade Concerts in Hollywood at the Hollywood Bowl, and New York City, accompanied by Andre Kostelanetz, both in 1966 and 1968, achieving extraordinary success. She also sang in the ex-USSR, Romania, among numerous other countries.
She continued her acting career, in films like 'Sangue Toureiro' (1958), and 'Fado Corrido' (1964).
Rodrigues appeared in Carlos Vilardebó's 1964 arthouse film The Enchanted Islands based on a short story by Herman Melville. Her 1965 recording of poems by 16th century poet Luís de Camões generated acres of newspaper polemics. Her 1968 single Vou dar de beber à dor broke all sales records and her 1970 album Com que voz won a number of international awards.
Having been given Portugal's Film Award for Best Actress for 'Fado' in 1947, once again she was awarded as Portugal's Best Film Actress in 1965, in a movie where she didn't sing.
In between she performed in other genres: she recorded some of her old songs with an orchestra, recorded an album with jazz saxophonist Don Byas 'Encontro' (1968), and recorded an album of American songs with Norrie Paramor's orchestra, 'Amália On Broadway' which includes a rendition of 'Summertime', 'The Nearness of You'..
An important album in the 1960s was 'Com Que Voz', (1969), reprising many of her successes and adding a few more, all poems by Portuguese-speaking poets, and music by Alain Oulman. Rodrigues was at the height of her vocal and performing powers during the 1960s.
During the 1970s Rodrigues concentrated on live concert performances. During the post-25 April 1974 period she was falsely accused of being a covert agent of the PIDE. During the Salazar years, Rodrigues had been an occasional financial supporter of some communists. At the same time she had occasionally expressed some admiration for Salazar himself. As a singer she was not involved in politics, before or after the Revolution. The democratic regime would decorate her far more than the dictatorship.
During the 1970s Rodrigues had success particularly in Italy and Japan. She recorded an album of Italian traditional songs 'A Una Terra Che Amo' (1973) and made versions of her own songs in Italian. She recorded live performances in an album called 'Amália in Italia' (1978). Her return to the recording studio in 1977 with Cantigas numa Língua Antiga. Soon after Rodrigues suffered her first health troubles, which caused her to be away from the stage for a short period again, and forced her to concentrate on performing especially in Portugal. Those problems were followed by two very personal albums: 'Gostava de Ser Quem Era' (1980) (literally 'I Wish I Were Who I Was')and 'Lágrima' (1983): all these songs were written by her own hand, since she used the poems she herself wrote. In between she sang Frederico Valerio's songs again, in an album called 'Fado' (1982). The 1980s and 1990s brought her enthronement as a living legend. Her last all-new studio recording, Lágrima, was released in 1983. It was followed by a series of previously lost or unreleased recordings and two greatest hits collections.
Rodrigues returned to the Olympia in Paris in 1985 for a series of concerts. From 1985 to 1994, she enjoyed great international success. During these years she held concerts in France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, USA, in addition to Portugal.
In 1990 the celebrations of her 50th career anniversary started with a major concert in Lisbon's Coliseu dos Recreios at the age of 69. She was decorated by the President of the Republic on stage. Her voice had changed: it was lower but intense.
Despite a series of illnesses involving her voice, Rodrigues continued recording as late as 1990. She eventually retreated from public performance, although her career gained in stature with an official biography by historian and journalist Vítor Pavão dos Santos, and a five-hour TV series documenting her fifty-year career featuring rare archival footage (later distilled into the 90-minute film documentary, The Art of Amália). Its director, Bruno de Almeida, has also produced Amália, Live in New York City, a concert film of her 1990 performance at The Town Hall.
Rodrigues launched a final album of originals in 1990, 'Obsessão'. In December 1994 she gave her last concert, aged 74, during the Lisbon European Capital of Culture concerts but had a lung operation soon after, in 1995. Television specials, interviews and tributes were held. She released a new album with original recordings from the 1960s and 1970s, 'Segredo' (1997), and a book of her poems, including the ones she had sung: 'Amália: Versos' (1997).
In 1998 Rodrigues was paid a national tribute at Lisbon's Universal Exhibition (Expo '98), and in February 1999 was considered one of Portugal's 25 more important personalities of the democratic period. Soon after she recorded what would become her last interview for television. The 'Cinématheque de Paris' paid her a tribute in April 1999, by showing some of her movies.
On 6 October 1999, Rodrigues died, aged 79 at her home in Lisbon. Portugal's government promptly declared three days of national mourning. Her house, in Rua de São Bento is now a museum. She is buried at the National Pantheon alongside other Portuguese notable figures.
She was given a State Funeral, attended by tens of thousands, and later transferred to the national Pantheon in 2001; the first woman ever to be laid among the greatest Portuguese figures, an exceptional honour awarded by Parliament.
According to her will, the Amália Rodrigues Foundation (Fundação Amália Rodrigues) was established. The foundation manages her legacy and assets, except her copyright, willed to two of her nephews. By the time of her death in 1999, Rodrigues had received more than 40 decorations and honors from France (including the Légion d'Honneur), Lebanon, Portugal, Spain, Israel and Japan.
In 2007, she came in 14th in Portugal's election of Os Grandes Portugueses (The Greatest Portuguese). One year later, in 2008, a film about her life Amália was released, with Sandra Barata portraying her.
Rodrigues was once considered by Variety as one of the voices of the century. She remains one of the most international of Portuguese artists and singers, and in Portugal, a national icon. She put Fado in the world map as a musical genre, and her works continue to inspire other performers and singers today, many of whom sing her repertoire.
Rodrigues remains one of Portugal's most famous artists and singers ever. She was born into a humble family and became one of Portugal's biggest star but also an internationally recognized artist and singer. Her career spanned 55 years and she recorded songs in several languages (especially Portuguese, French, English, Spanish and Italian). Versions of her own songs, for instance "Coimbra" ("April in Portugal") achieved success in countries like France, Italy, USA, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Romania, Japan and The Netherlands, among many others.
Rodrigues' parents had nine children but only two reached adulthood: Vicente and Filipe, José and António (all died as infants), Amália, Celeste, Aninhas (who died at sixteen), Maria da Glória (who died shortly after birth), and Odete. In 1940, she married Francisco Cruz, a lathe worker and amateur guitar player from whom she separated in 1943 and whom she divorced in 1946. In 1961, in Rio de Janeiro, she married César Seabra, a Brazilian engineer (son of Portuguese migrants); they remained married until his death in 1997.
This discography is not yet complete.