2021 is barely out of the gates and Eurovision fans have already lost one of the icons of the competition and Portugal one of its finest ever performers in Carlos do Carmo.
A titan of Portugal’s unique and melancholic fado folk tradition, do Carmo represented Portugal at Eurovision 1976 with “Uma flor de verde pinho,” (“A green-pine flower”) coming in 12th in a field of 19 with a song composed by Jose Niza with lyrics by Manuel Alegre.
Though fado had been on the decline during the 1970s, due to its been seen as an establishment genre during the rule of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime of Marcelo Caetano, do Carmo managed to reinvent the genre and give it relevance during and after the Carnation Revolution of 1974 (the peaceful dispatch of the regime that famously used Portugal’s appearance at Eurovision 1974 with Paolo de Carvalho’s “E Depois de Adeus” as a signal to the military to execute the coup).
do Carmo himself was a public opponent of the Estado Novo regime before the Carnation Revolution, having risen to fame with collaborations with other anti-establishment artists such as de Carvalho, Fernando Tordo, and Ary dos Santos.
As such, do Carmo and his unique take on fado survived the Carnation Revolution as a wave of songs from the “canção de intervenção” (protest song) dominated the Portuguese airwaves from 1974 to 1976.
do Carmo was internally selected by broadcaster Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP) to represent Portugal at Eurovision 1976, with the first Festival da Canção after the Revolution taking on an unusual format – as with the United Kingdom’s A Song for Europe in the 1960s and early 1970s, RTP selected do Carmo and had the public vote on which song to pair with him.
Ultimately “Uma flor de verde pinho,” a love song to Portugal with do Carmo’s patriotism being likened to the love of a fine woman or a great wine, won out. Though the result at Eurovision 1976 was middling, the song proved to be a massive hit in Portugal and he used it as a platform to launch his career beyond Portugal.
Born Carlos Manuel de Ascenção do Carmo de Almeida on December 21, 1939 in Lisbon, Portugal, do Carmo carried on the family fado tradition, with his mother Lucilia do Carmo having being a successful fado singer in the 1920s and 1930s.
Though originally intent on a career in hotel management in Switzerland, do Carmo returned to Portugal in the early 1960s after the death of his father to help run the Faia, a fado house and incubation space for artists set up by his mother. The biggest beneficiary of this artist development was none other than do Carmo himself, with his twists on fado gaining him particular attention, including the use of instrumentation other than acoustic guitars.
After Eurovision 1976, do Carmo released “Um Homem na Cidade,” a concept album that incorporated bossa nova and French balladry into fado with lyrics by frequent collaborator Ary dos Santos. “Un Homen na Cidade” is considered by Portuguese music historian Rui Vieira Nery to be the most important fado album ever, exposing listeners outside of Portugal to the genre and also showing Portuguese listeners how dynamic the genre can be.
Carlos do Carmo não era só um notável fadista, que o público, a crítica e um Grammy consagraram. Um dos seus maiores contributos para a cultura portuguesa foi a forma como militantemente renovou o fado e o preparou para o futuro.
— António Costa (@antoniocostapm) January 1, 2021
“One of [do Carmo’s] greatest contributions to Portuguese culture was the way he renewed fado and prepared it for the future,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa wrote on Twitter, one of many tributes by prominent Portuguese politicians and artists posted today.
In 2009, do Carmo was chosen by the Mayor of Lisbon to be the official ambassador for fado, which shortly thereafter was granted heritage status by UNESCO.
do Carmo was also the very first Portuguese singer to receive a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
do Carmo passed away in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2021 at Lisbon’s Santa Maria Hospital due to an aortic aneurysm at the age of 81.
ESC United wishes to send its condolences and thoughts and prayers to the friends and family of do Carmo, a man whose soulful voice we will miss and a man who made several generations of Portuguese and non-Portuguese fans alike fall in love in fado.
What did #YOU think of do Carmo’s performance at Eurovision 1976? Or are there other songs that #YOU want us to hear by him that should be highlighted to celebrate his legacy? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.