Rita Lee, Brazil's "Queen of Rock", dead at 75

Rita Lee onstage
(Image credit: 4Imagens)

Rita Lee, Brazil's "Queen of Rock" and singer with Tropicália legends Os Mutantes, has died at the age of 75. The news was confirmed yesterday in an Instagram post from her family.  

"We announce the death of Rita Lee, at her residence in São Paulo, late last night," the statement read. "She was surrounded by all the love of her family, as she always wanted."

The family went on to announce that the singer's wake will be held at the Planetarium in Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo today (May 10) from 10am to 5pm local time, and will be open to the public. 

The statement finished by saying, "In this moment of deep sadness, the family appreciates everyone's affection and love."

Lee was born in São Paulo in December 1947, and founded Os Mutantes (The Mutants) in 1966, with keyboardist Arnaldo Baptista and guitarist Sérgio Dias. 

The following year the band contributed the classic song Baby to Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis, a compilation that documented composer Gilberto Gil's avowedly anti-dictatorship Tropicália movement, which mixed the local sounds of samba and bossa nova with bubblegum pop and avant-garde composition, and threw in influences from American and British psychedelic rock. It would go on become one of the most important albums in modern Brazilian music.  

The band's self-titled debut album was released in 1968 and included two more classics, their cover of Jorge Ben's A Minha Menina – later a minor 2002 UK hit for The Bees – and Bat Macumba, written by Gil and fellow Tropicália icon Caetano Veloso. 

Lee left Os Mutantes after fifth album Mutantes e Seus Cometas no País do Baurets in 1972, and would go on to enjoy a successful solo career, releasing over 40 solo albums and amassing an estimated 50 million sales. When Os Mutantes reformed in 2006, playing their first show in nearly 30 years at London's Barbican centre, Lee refused to take part, describing the event as a "fundraiser for geriatric musicians."

Ever the activist, when Lee was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2021 she ignited fury amongst supporters of then-Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro by naming her tumour after him. The nation's current leader, Lula da Silva, paid tribute in the wake of Lee's death, tweeting, "She thought the title of queen of rock was inappropriate, but the nickname does justice to her trajectory."

"Rita helped transform Brazilian music with her creativity and boldness," he added. "She spared nothing and no one with her humour and eloquence. She faced misogyny in life and music and inspired generations of women in rock and art.

"She will never be forgotten and leaves her legacy in music and books for millions of fans around the world."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.