Brazil has given the world a lot of amazing music over the years, spanning a myriad of genres as original and unique as this massive country itself. Responsible for styles like bossa nova, samba, choro, and countless others, Brazilian music is a unique entity unto itself, but has also influenced genres like jazz and pop worldwide.
Unlike many of the influential divas and crooners from North America, many of Brazil’s most famous singers are instrumentalists and composers as well. This autonomy that so many artists possess adds to the uniqueness of Brazilian music, combining elements of jazz, singer-songwriting, and even indigenous folk traditions.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 13 of the greatest and most famous Brazilian singers and explore their lives and careers. Let’s start of with one of the most well known, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
1. Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-1994)
Antonio Carlos Jobim may very well be the most famous singer, composer, and instrumentalist to come out of Brazil.
He was a renowned artist both in the Brazilian scene and internationally, collaborating with numerous American and European musicians and composing ample music recorded and performed to this day.
Songs like ‘Corcovado‘, The Girl From Ipanemaand ‘One Note Samba‘ remain a part of the jazz and Latin music repertoire to this day and have been recorded by the who’s who of the music business.
Jobim passed away in New York City in late 1994, after his 13th studio album.
2. Elis Regina (1945-1982)
Known for her tasteful renditions of others’ music and the prodigy status she earned by making her singing debut on a children’s radio broadcast, Elis Regina became a true Brazilian star before meeting an untimely death.
Regina made the most of her career, eventually relocating to Rio de Janeiro and then Europe. This second half of her career included the famous Elis and Tom collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim and political activism by Regina critiquing Brazil’s then military government.
Her celebrity reputation protected her from the political regime but not from the personal crises and addiction problems that led to an overdose at the tragically young age of 36.
3. Roberto Carlos (1941-)
When researching singer Roberto Carlos, now 80 years old, you’ll find ample discography, exciting biography, and most impressively, current international tour dates!
Building a storied career as one of the most influential artists in Brazil, Carlos has sold over 140 million albums worldwide, most of which are self-titled but include the name of their most popular hit.
Starting at age 9, Carlos studied piano and guitar. He quickly developed an ear for singing as well and was featured on the radio in the 50s.
Influenced by Elvis Presley, he became one of the pioneers of Brazilian pop-rock. As he got older, his songs became known as more romantic, and as he gained fame, he also became interested in political protesters- a theme in his career to this day.
4. Asrud Gilberto (1940-)
Astrud Gilberto is yet another singer to have gained Brazilian success before crossing the Caribbean Sea into the American realm of jazz and Latin jazz.
She gained fame in her early 20s, thanks largely to the influence of her then-husband, famous saxophonist Stan Getz.
Her first album went gold, selling well over 1 million copies. She continued to work with Verve Records, one of the largest jazz labels at the time. She continued a busy life in the US and toured abroad, performing regularly throughout the 80s and 90s.
While she isn’t technically retired, she has taken “indefinite” time off of performing publicly since the early 2000s.
5. Joao Gilberto (1931-2019)
Joao Gilberto is one of the early pioneers of the bossa nova musical tradition and remains the most influential artist of that style to this day.
If his last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was married to Astrud Gilberto before the couple divorced in the 1960s.
While Stan Getz brought Asrud Gilberto to the US, Joao brought her to attention in Brazil through frequent collaborations.
Gilberto embraced modern amplification techniques for voice and acoustic guitar early in his career, using the new technology to sing and play with a lighter touch.
This subtlety combined with a beautifully flowing rhythmic pulse became key factors in what we call bossa nova today.
6. Caetano Veloso (1942-)
Caetano Veloso is a well-known name amongst Brazilian singers and was one of the early contributors to the Tropicalia movement that swept the nation’s arts and culture scenes.
Growing up in the Bahia Province, Veloso took up guitar and vocals while studying philosophy in college.
The Tropicalia movement became controversial when Brazil became more dominant politically, prompting Veloso and other influential musicians and artists to briefly relocate to Europe.
He quickly returned once things stabilized politically and has maintained a career there since.
7. Gilberto Gil (1942-)
Gilberto Gil carried the torch that so many Brazilian singers of his generation did, becoming politically vocal (pun not intended) throughout the 70s.
Like Caetano Veloso, Gil went on to shape the Tropicalia sound, at times from Europe when Brazil was less safe.
Gil never lost the sense of political activism, getting involved in the Green Party in the late 80s, and eventually becoming Brazil’s Minister of Culture in the early 2000s.
This was excellent timing for the music scene in Brazil during the infancy of online music distribution since Gil spoke out about artists not being compensated fairly.
8. Chico Buarque (1944-)
Despite his music being heavily censored by the Brazilian government during tough political times, singer, writer, guitarist, and activist Chico Buarque is an international and local legend.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Buarque grew up fascinated by both European literature and bossa nova music.
These passions followed Buarque into his musical career, as he began to develop a style of complex and clever wordplay atop classic samba and bossa nova grooves.
He continued to write novels and poems, collaborating with filmmakers and playingwrights during the vibrant Tropicalia period in Brazil, and he remains popular to this day.
9. Milton Nascimento (1942-)
Singer, guitarist, and composer Milton Nascimento is a Brazilian star and has an unparalleled international reputation.
Though he came from humble beginnings in Rio de Janeiro, he was brought to popularity by his compositions.
His international fame started in the early 1970s when saxophonist Wayne Shorter hired Nascimento on a Brazilian-themed recording.
While the singer-songwriter’s music is undeniably Brazilian, he has bridged the gap into world music, collaborating with the biggest names of the North American and European pop scenes to date.
10. Djavan (1949-)
Djavan Caetano Viana, known by his stage name Djavanbegan his career writing television soundtracks but grew more popular as a singer and composer in the late 70s.
Djavan was born in the state of Alagoas, which later became the namesake of one of his popular compositions.
We’re lucky to know Djavan as the musical artist he is since he almost pursued another Brazilian tradition at a young age; soccer!
Djavan has led a prolific career, with 28 recordings under his name, countless other guest appearances, and performances of his compositions by Carmen McRae and Al Jarreau, among others.
11. Ivan Lins (1945-)
Composer of Love Dance and Comecar de Novo (The Island)Ivan Lins has solidified his reputation as Brazilian music royalty through his unique sound as a composer, pianist, and singer.
The unique harmony common in Brazil’s pop music, bossa nova, and samba makes these compositions appealing to jazz and pop artists abroad, and Lins’ pieces are no exception.
Now in his 70s, Lins remains active in Brazil and internationally to this day. Having won Latin Grammys and countless other accolades, he is truly a global artist.
Lins currently remains committed to activism surrounding copyright law and ensuring fair compensation for musicians.
12. Luiz Gonzaga (1912-1989)
Many great singers accompany themselves on guitar or piano, but the ever-unique Luiz Gonzaga opted for the accordion instead.
He pioneered the style now known as baiao and remained true to his northern roots throughout his career.
Gonzaga wore traditional clothes from his home state and played in a traditionally recognizable style. This made him popular amongst northerners who had taken residence in Rio de Janeiro and missed their homeland.
Through a long career, he popularized baiao and the accordion in Brazil.
13. Luciana Souza (1966-)
Vocalist Luciana Souza may not be as famous as others on this list. However, she has earned her spot by rising to popularity and carrying the torch lit by other Brazilian singers.
Born in Sao Paulo, Souza now resides in New York City. Moving to Boston for her Master’s Degree, she stayed in that area to teach at Berklee School of Music and Manhattan School of Music (NYC), all the while gaining a reputation across the US for her virtuosic technique singing in Portuguese and English.
From Brazilian music to modern jazz to commissions from classical composers, Souza does it all.
Summing Up Our List of Great Brazilian Singers
From rich harmonies akin to jazz to funky yet understated rhythms, Brazilian music is a truly unique art form.
Whether you want to get up and dance, become cerebral about complex chord progressions, or just be moved by a beautiful voice, the singers of this list have it all covered.