Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists

The Bossa Nova Guitar of Rosinha de Valença

Brazilian guitarist Rosinha de Valença was at the forefront of bossa nova’s peak in the 1960s, leaving behind an often uncelebrated legacy.


March 27, 2020
Written by
Cynthia Schemmer

Like the title of her 1971 album, Um Violão em Primeiro Plano (A Guitar in the Foreground), Rosinha de Valença kept the guitar front and center during her short-lived career. Often overlooked within the bossa nova canon, despite having been a key figure during the genre’s peak in the 1960s, Valença was one of the greatest acoustic guitar players in Brazilian music and history. 

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Born in 1941 as Maria Rosa Canelas in Valença, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Valença became interested in the acoustic guitar as a child while watching her brother play. She eventually taught herself by playing along with the radio, and at just 12 years old she began performing at local clubs in her hometown.

In her early 20s, Valença moved to Rio de Janeiro and devoted herself to music. It was then, in the 1960s, that she met Sérgio Porto, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro, who was so blown away by an early performance that he claimed she played for her whole city, resulting in her stage name “de Valença.” Shortly after, Porto introduced her to Badan Powell, one of the most celebrated Brazilian guitarists at the time, whom she began playing with regularly.

With a musical narrative of resonant tone, winding and insistent phrasing and rhythm, diving scales, and sparse lyrics that catch you pleasantly off guard, Valença caught the attention of Aloísio Oliveira, founder and producer of Brazilian record label Elenco, who would release her debut album, Apresentando Rosinha de Valença, in 1963Valença was then invited to perform at Bottle nightclub for eight months, a critical venue for bossa nova, and also performed on a variety of television and radio shows in Brazil, including the eminent O Fino da Bossa, the first bossa nova show in the city of São Paulo.

In 1964, Valença joined Sérgio Mendes and his band Brasil 65 on an eight-month US tour, and recorded two albums with them. She went on to perform across the world, touring constantly and playing with notable American musicians such as Sarah Vaughan and Henry Mancini. 

Valença eventually started her own band in 1974, including several famous Brazilian musicians such as João Donato, Copinha, Ivone Lara, and Miúcha. During her career, she recorded seven studio albums, three live albums, and contributed to the works of Bud Shank, Sérgio Mendes, Martinho da Vila, Sivuca, and Waltel Blanco. Valença was known to play various Di Giorgio guitars, as well as cavaquinho and electric guitars.

After suffering brain damage caused by a heart attack in 1992, Valença fell into a coma for the following 12 years before passing away in 2004. Despite such an abrupt and devastating end to her career, her legacy persists as a crucial contributor to the bossa nova vanguard. In fact, our Issue 16 cover artist Nai Palm cites her as an influence, proving that despite a lack of media coverage, Valença’s gift bridges generations.

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