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Brazilian rock icon Rita Lee dies at 75

Rita Lee, a Brazilian rock-and-roll icon who sang with legendary group Os Mutantes and went on to a trailblazing solo career as one of Latin America’s first female rockers, has died at age 75, her family said Tuesday.The Latin Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021, died at home in Sao Paulo Monday night “surrounded by the love of her entire family, as she always wanted,” relatives said in a statement on Instagram. Lee was “one of the biggest and most brilliant names in Brazilian music,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wrote on Twitter, hailing her “creativity and daring.”

“She spared nothing and no one with her humor and eloquence. She fought machismo in her music and her life, and inspired generations of women in rock and art. We will never forget her.” Known as the “Queen of Rock” in Brazil, Lee was a leading figure in the “Tropicalismo” movement that revolutionized Brazilian music amid the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

With her eye-grabbing outfits, bright red hair and colored sunglasses, she remained a national fixture across the decades, revered for her irreverent songs on love and freedom. Her family said a public wake would be held at the planetarium of Sao Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park on Wednesday. Her body will be cremated in a private ceremony, in line with her wishes, they said.

File photo shows Brazilian singer Rita Lee arrives at a hotel next to the Sambadrome to attend the second night of carnival celebrations in Sao Paulo, on February 19, 2012.

‘Revolutionary woman’

Fellow legend Gilberto Gil led tributes from the music world, posting a compilation online of pictures and videos of himself and Lee playing together through the years. “Rest in peace, my sister,” wrote the 80-year-old singer-songwriter and former culture minister.

Current Culture Minister Margareth Menezes hailed Lee as a “revolutionary woman” in remarks to the Brazilian Senate, where she called for a minute of silence in the late singer’s honor. Rita Lee Jones was born on December 31, 1947 in Sao Paulo, to a family descended from immigrants from the American South who left for Brazil after the US Civil War.

Her father, a dentist, included the “Lee” in her name in tribute to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Lee got her start singing Beatles covers in an all-female band, the Teenage Singers. She shot to fame in the 1960s with Os Mutantes and the Tropicalismo movement, which blended international pop and psychedelic rock with Brazilian sounds.


‘Intense, spectacular life’

Lee went solo in the 1970s, releasing a string of hits including “Ovelha Negra” (1975), “Mania de voce” (1979) and “Lanca Perfume” (1980). She remained a bridge with the world throughout her career, opening for the Rolling Stones in their first-ever concert in Brazil in 1995, and releasing an album of bossa nova covers of Beatles songs in 2001. Lee, who released more than 30 albums across her five-decade career, won the Latin Grammy for best Brazilian rock album in 2001, with her record “3001.”

She retired from performing live in 2012, at age 64, citing “physical fragility.” “My mother, whom I loved more than anything in this life, has become a star in the sky,” her son Joao, one of her three children, wrote on Instagram. “What an intense, spectacular life you’ve had. Admired and loved by so many people, so far ahead of your time. Your legacy, story and art will live forever.” — AFP

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