Cesaria Evora, the famed Cape Verda morna singer nicknamed the “Barefoot Diva,” has died at age 70 of unknown causes.
Evora’s health had begun to deteriorate since last year following a major heart attack and cardiopulmonary problems. May 10 is when she first became aware of the problems, and soon after in September, her agent announced that her career had come to an end due to health issues.
Evora’s career technically began in the bars of Mindelo, a harbor city in Sao Vincente, Cape Verde. Her friend had heard her sing in a local choir, and encouraged the 16-year-old to try her luck in the rough town.
Although her soulful style had begun to take shape then, her melancholy voice only reached the ears of the sailors who passed through, and Evora continued her life in relative anonymity despite her gifts.
After years of working as a seamstress and singing, Evora gave up her singing for a while, until a musician persuaded her to once again perform in Lisbon, Portugal. The singer agreed, and met Jose da Silva, a Frenchman, who recognized her talent. He brought her to Paris, where she made her first album, La Diva aux Pieds Nus in 1988.
The album was widely acknowledged for its haunting ballads, bittersweet tone, and sense of loss that could only be cultivated from one with a past like Evora’s.
Her subsequent ten albums would be lauded for their creative use of instrumentation and Evora’s trembling voice, winning her a Grammy in 2004.
Although she was well known for her unique style, Evora never changed, choosing to live her life on modest Sao Vincente, where she passed away.
When asked why, Evora answered, "Whatever the rest of the world may think of me now, I was always considered a great singer at home. But we all know each other.” She told The Washington Post in 2001, “There's no 'stardom' in Cape Verde."
Cesaria Evora (August 27, 1941– December 17, 2011), called the “mistress of morna,” had three children, but was never married. She was nicknamed the “Barefoot Diva” because she never performed in shoes.