Rita Lee, one of Brazil’s top-selling rock artists and an original member of the tropicalia band Os Mutantes, died on May 5 after struggling with lung cancer. She was 75.
The news was confirmed on Tuesday morning via Lee’s official Instagram account which, translated from Portuguese, stated: “We announce the death of Rita Lee, at her residence, in São Paulo, capital, late last night, surrounded by all the love of her family, as she always wanted.”
The post also made note that Lee’s body will be cremated, according to her wishes, and included a public invite to attend her wake on May 10.
Lee was born on Dec. 31, 1947, in Sao Paulo, to her father, a dentist of U.S. descent, and her mother, a Brazilian pianist. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lee learned to play the piano, along with several other instruments including drums, guitar, harmonica and autoharp. She also spoke multiple languages including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.
As a young singer-songwriter, Lee was introduced to brothers Arnaldo and Sérgio Dias Baptista, and together, the trio began performing under the stage name Os Mutantes in 1966. Their music — a novel blend of electric guitars, orchestral sounds and American psychedelic rock — stuck out like a sore thumb among the pop music that was being produced in Brazil at the time. Still, the group was championed by illustrious Brazilian musicians such as Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. Os Mutantes went on to release their now-acclaimed self-titled debut album in 1968 and went on frequent tours across Europe.
By 1973, Lee had left Os Mutantes and formed another band called Tutti Frutti which produced hits “Ovelha Negra,” “Agora só Falta Você,” “Esse tal de Roque Enrow,” “Miss Brasil 2000,” and “Jardins da Babilônia.” She performed with other bands throughout the 70s, though Lee was always the main singer in those groups. Eventually, she found major success as a solo artist with “Mania de Você,” her biggest hit, and “Lança Perfume,” which granted her international recognition.
In her music, Lee was outspoken on a variety of political topics that helped introduce Brazilian audiences to feminist ideas like female sexuality and pleasure. She was also an avid animal rights activist.
Lee is survived by her husband Roberto de Carvalho, with whom she performed throughout the latter half of her career, and their three children.
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