Bibi Ferreira is an entertainment powerhouse in Brazil — she’s been singing, acting, directing and producing for the past 75 years. At 94, she is also a force that doesn’t quit.
The “Grand Dame,” as she is often called, was recently in New York City performing “4 x Bibi” at Symphony Space, a show saluting her four singing peers — Frank Sinatra, Édith Piaf, Amália Rodrigues, and Carlos Gardel.
“They are not my favorite singers, but they are the best,” says Ferreira, in her deep, strong voice, about why she chose these four to tribute. “Piaf was a composer herself.”
Although born in Rio de Janeiro, Ferreira speaks perfect English, as well as Spanish, French and her native Portuguese.
“I had a lot of work to do,” she says about her childhood. “I was brought up in a British school. My mother was very tough with me. I spoke five languages at the age of 15. I also learned the piano and violin. It was a very, very busy life. I did whatever my mother wanted.”
Ferreira’s mother was Spanish ballerina, Aída Izquierdo, and her father, the prominent Brazilian actor, Procópio Ferreira. So the stage became Bibi’s second home from when she was still only months old.
“A very special night for me was an opening act with my father on February 28, 1941,” says Ferreira about her professional stage debut at age 18 in the Italian play “La Locandiera.” “My father – the greatest actor from Brazil – taught me everything I know.”
Throughout her career, Ferreira brought some of Broadway’s biggest musicals to Brazil in the 1960’s — as well as starred in them — such as, “My Fair Lady,” “Hello, Dolly!”, and “Man of La Mancha.” She sang and acted, touring worldwide, and even hosted various television programs, including Curso de Alfabetização para Adultos — a televised literacy course which taught more than 30,000 people in Brazil.
“It was one of the things that most honored my career,” says Ferreira, who takes the art of communication very seriously. “My career has been a success – one on top of the other…The most important thing for an actor is to make yourself understood.”
It wasn’t always an easy ride for Ferreira. She was married five times and had one daughter. Her last, and most successful, marriage was to Brazilian playwright, Paolo Pontes. However, after only eight years together, he died of stomach cancer at the age of 36, and she never married again.
“Since I remember at the age of 12, I never decided anything in my life,” said Ferreira about her professional life. [My parents] decided my life…It’s a very severe way of living, but I like music very, very, very much – I really prefer the musicals.”
These days, although she still performs and tours occasionally, she is now free to wake up when she wants.
“I wake up, have my coffee and milk, go for the mail,” says Ferreira. “Sometimes I play a little piano which I adore. Then my assistant tells me what I have to do. I get ready, get dressed.”
What is her most important piece of life advice which she wishes she could give her younger self?
“Try to be simple. I think simplicity is the most important thing in life. It’s very important to just be yourself…The most important thing in life is to communicate. Just be happy. I could eat everything I want, and my health is good, so I’m happy!”