Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

78 years of Elis Regina: get to know the story of the woman who defied the dictatorship with music

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

She was much more than a beautiful voice. She was intelligent and had a strong and unique personality, and she was ahead of her time in many issues in that era. She was, and is, for a lot of people, the biggest interpreter and singer of Brazil. Learn a little about Elis Regina and her legacy for all generations in Brazilian culture.

Who was Elis?

Born in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, on March 17th of 1945, Elis Regina Carvalho Costa started her musical career when she was really young. At 12 years old, the girl began her participation in a local radio program, enchanting everyone with her talent. This didn’t take long to be successful, and when she was just 16 years old, she launched her first album: “Viva a Brotolândia”.

During the 60s, Pimentinha – a nickname that the singer Vinícius de Moraes gave to her – was gaining fame all over the country, winning festivals and filling theaters. 

Elis wrote just one song called “Triste amor que vai morrer”, but her emotion and expressiveness, while she performed other people’s songs, made her unique, being considered an icon until today. Over the years, for such a reason, she became internationally famous and one of the biggest voices in Brazil. Thus, a lot of composers and recognized singers were launched with Elis’s help, like Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, and Belchior.

Evolved woman

Pimentinha (little pepper) wasn’t any nickname. Elis Regina was physically tiny but had an explosive personality, confronting what she did think was wrong. Elis used to discuss matters often considered polemics (mainly in the country’s era), but important to be talked about.

“If this system was probably in the man, the figure that gave birth, maybe abortion would be allowed” – Elis Regina about abortion in an interview with RBS.

Pimentinha was way ahead of its time. She was a defender of the rights of musicians and workers in general. She even created an association for interpreters and musicians, the ASSIM, with the preoccupation with preserving the copyrights in the musical world. Furthermore,  Elis discussed matters like feminism and the environment too.

“Crazy people in charge”

In 1964, Brazil suffered a military coup, that censured all kinds of manifests against the government, and this way, anyone who had contrary opinions about the system was not allowed to express their revolts – artists included. If they did that, they could be arrested and even die by torture.

Elis Regina was clearly against this dictatorship, even speaking in Holland that Brazil was being governed by crazy people. However, in 1972, Elis sang the National Anthem at Army Olympics, causing confusion among people that believed she was supporting the military. But it is currently known that, afraid of reprisal, Elis accepts some authorities’ requests.

After that, Pimentinha made a point of showing that she was totally opposed to that system, and through music, she fought against the dictatorship. “O bêbado e o equilibrista”, music written by João Bosco but eternalized in Elis Regina’s voice, became the anthem of amnesty in Brazil, with a lot of references to people that suffered repression or died during this era. This song represented the beginning of the re-democratization of the country, which, unfortunately, Elis didn’t see.

Nobody like her

“Everybody liked having a song recorded by Elis, I have lots.” – Gilberto Gil about Elis Regina 

A lot of artists didn’t know how to sing their own songs after seeing Elis sing them. Elis knew how to express and sing every single word of those songs in a unique way, beyond the way that she used her arms to accompany her singing, which became eternal in Brazilian culture.

Here are some of her best interpretations:

Maria Maria by Milton Nascimento
Como Nossos Pais by Belchior
O Bêbado e a Equilibrista by Aldir Blanc e João Bosco
Águas de Março by Tom Jobim 
Tiro ao Álvaro  by Andoniran Barbosa

Eternal icon

In 1982, victim of a fatality, Elis Regina mixed drinks and some pills, dying of heart attack, leaving her children Maria Rita, João Marcelo Bôscoli and Pedro Mariano, beyond the legion of fans.

Elis showed that art can be a political act, a vehicle to express the revolt of the times lived. This way, she became much more than just a singer, but an example of altruism, strength, and singularity. There is no other like Elis. 


The article above was edited by Clarissa Palácio.

Liked this type of content? Check Her Campus Cásper Líbero home page for more!

Ana Carolina Carvalho

Casper Libero '26

Journalism student. Passionate about listening to other people's stories and all kinds of art. I love learning about the history and culture of Brazil.