Rita Lee: Brazil’s ‘Queen of Rock’ Dies at 75

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Rita Lee, Brazil’s “Queen of Rock”, has died aged 75, her family has announced.

A member of the original line-up of Os Mutantes, one of Brazil’s most influential rock bands, her musical career spanned more than 50 years.

Her album Fruto Proibido (Forbidden Fruit) with the band Tutti Frutti is considered a Brazilian music classic.

Rita Lee had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 and died at her home in São Paulo “surrounded by the love of her entire family”, a statement said.

Her family said her fans would be able to pay tribute to the singer-songwriter at a public wake on Wednesday at the planetarium in her hometown of São Paulo.

Often referred to as “Rainha do Rock” (Queen of Rock), a title she said she found “tacky”, she preferred to be known as “Patron Saint of Freedom”, which many thought better reflected her independent spirit.

Always irreverent, she had joked in her autobiography about the reaction that she expected people would have about hearing news of her death: “I can already imagine the words of affection those who detest me will utter. (…) On social media, some will say: ‘Oh, I thought she’d already died, hahaha.'”

Archive photo of Rita LeeImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Rita Lee always spoke her mind even at a time when it was risky to do so

But she added: “Those who are sincere [in their affection] will pick up my records and sing Ovelha Negra.”

Ovelha Negra (Black Sheep) was just one of her many songs which reflected her desire to be herself and to make it in the rock world, which at the time was dominated by men.

Brazil’s President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, celebrated her feminism in a tweet in which he sent her family his condolences.

Lula said that she had “helped transform Brazilian music with her creativity and daring” and that she had “confronted machismo both in life and in music and inspired generations of women in the world of rock and the arts”.

Rita Lee often did not fear upsetting those in power. She became one of the main singer-songwriters in the Tropicália movement, which emerged in the 1960s and which challenged the censorship and restrictions placed on the arts under Brazil’s military rule.

She won seven Latin Grammy awards in the span of her career, most recently a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.

Her 2016 autobiography in which she candidly wrote about her struggle with drugs, as well as her childhood growing up in São Paulo and her long musical career, both as a solo artist and as a member of a variety of bands, became a non-fiction bestseller.

In it, in a chapter entitled “Prophecy”, she wrote her own epitaph: “She was never a good example, but she was a good person.”

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