In the 1980s, Jovelina Pérola Negra completely transformed the samba dance scene in Brazil with her deep, swinging voice and graceful improvisations. La Minna, a guest artist from Rio de Janeiro, created the illustration for today’s Doodle, which honours the musician’s 78th birthday.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pérola Negra was given the name Jovelina Faria Belfort at birth. She spent her childhood performing samba music and dancing in the Belford Roxo district. Jovelina Pérola Negra, which translates to “black pearl” in Portuguese, was the stage name her friend offered since it complemented her flawless skin and elegant voice.
Pérola Negra, who was a housemaid up until the age of 40, used her leisure time to attend Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Império Serrano Samba School. She frequently performed at pagodes, or neighbourhood samba celebrations, in the working-class Rio de Janeiro suburbs.
Pérola Negra was given the chance to record her debut album, Raca Brasileira, with other recently discovered artists when a local producer found her at a pagode. The performers all sang in the Partido Alto style of samba, which allows for audience participation through sing-alongs and vocal improvisation. Three of the songs on Raca Brasileira were written and performed by Pérola Negra. Because of its enormous popularity, the record company RGE hired Negra to make her debut solo album.
To even more popularity, Pérola Negra released her debut record under her own name. With a cavaquinho, a Portuguese stringed instrument that resembles a ukulele—like the ones shown in today’s Doodle—the song arrangements supported her emotive singing. During the peak of her fame, she put out another four independent albums, experimenting with various musical styles including the slower samba-canço and winning a platinum record. Prior to her death at the age of 54 from a heart attack, Pérola Negra gave performances all over the world in Angola, France, and Japan.
Pérola Negra received the Order of Cultural Merit from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture in 2016. She also has a community centre in Rio de Janeiro’s Pavuna neighbourhood that bears her name. Her music is currently available on streaming services and in record shops all over the world.
Happy 78th birthday, Jovelina Pérola Negra!