Like Billie Holiday, with whom she was most often compared, Cesária Évora rose from poverty, sang in bars as a teenager and was possessed of a languid, honeyed voice that moved millions. Évora, who won a Grammy in 2003 after taking the music of the African islands of Cape Verde to stages around the world, died Saturday. She was 70.
Known as the 'Barefoot Diva' because she performed without shoes (in solidarity with the poverty-stricken children of her homeland), Évora was the cigarette-puffing queen of the traditional music of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the west coast of Africa. Her songs, which she sang mostly in Portuguese creole, focused on hardship and heartbreak and hitched West African rhythms to Brazilian samba and British sea shanties. She began singing at 16 in sailors' bars and recorded her first album in 1988, when she was 47.
Évora underwent open-heart surgery last year, and retired from singing in September after suffering a stroke.
Her voice was unique: feather-light, yet weighed down with emotion - turning the lives of the downtrodden into songs of hope. Chain-smoking aside, she never put a bare foot wrong: