Carmen Amaya Flamenco: The Queen of Flamenco

akune – Carmen Amaya was one of the most influential and celebrated flamenco dancers and singers of the 20th century. Born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1913, into a family of Romani musicians and performers. She started dancing at a young age, and soon became known for her exceptional talent, charisma, and energy.

Revolutionized flamenco, introducing castanets, male attire of pants and vests, and blending jazz and Latin rhythms. Breaking gender, class, and ethnic barriers, she performed on prestigious global stages like Carnegie Hall, the White House, and Olympia Theatre.

She collaborated with renowned artists, such as Sabicas, Mario Escudero, and Antonio Gades, and inspired generations of flamenco dancers, such as Antonio Canales, Sara Baras, and Joaquín Cortés. She died in 1963, in Begur, Spain, leaving behind a legacy of artistic excellence and innovation.

Early Life and Career

carmen anaya
source : vogue

Carmen Amaya was born on November 2, 1913, in the Somorrostro neighborhood of Barcelona, a poor and marginalized area where many Romani families lived. Her father, José Amaya, was a guitarist, and her mother, Micaela Amaya, was a dancer.

Carmen had nine siblings, and they all learned to play music and dance from their parents. Carmen showed a natural talent for flamenco, and started performing in the streets, bars, and cafés of Barcelona, along with her family and other artists.

She soon gained fame and admiration for her powerful and expressive dancing, which combined speed, agility, and grace. She was also a gifted singer, and had a deep and raspy voice that conveyed emotion and intensity.

Carmen Amaya’s career took off when she was discovered by the impresario Soler, who hired her to perform in his company. She toured Spain and France, and participated in several films, such as

La Bodega (1930), external video link

María de la O (1936), watch video link here

El Embrujo del Fandango (1939). external watch video link

Carmen Amaya also connected with key personalities in the Spanish cultural world, including Federico García Lorca, Manuel de Falla, and Pablo Picasso. In 1936, she relocated to Madrid, starring at the Teatro Fontalba and leading the flamenco show “Los Tarantos,” directed by Aurelio de Cádiz. Additionally, she established her own troupe, featuring her father, her brother Antonio, and guitarist Sabicas, who became her lifelong artistic collaborator.

International Success and Recognition

In 1941, Carmen Amaya and Sabicas left Spain, embarking on a tour through Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. They were met with enthusiasm and acclaim, audiences and critics alike lauding their virtuosity, originality, and authenticity.

Their tour introduced flamenco to a broader, more diverse audience and impacted other music styles like jazz, blues, and salsa. Amaya collaborated with famed artists such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and José Greco, and featured in Hollywood films like “Follow the Boys” (1944), “Knickerbocker Holiday” (1944), and “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946).

Her achievements brought numerous honors, including the Gold Medal of the City of New York, the Order of Isabella the Catholic, and the Cross of Alfonso X the Wise.

Despite her international success, Amaya remained connected to her Spanish roots. She often returned to Spain, performing at prestigious venues like the Teatro Español, Teatro de la Zarzuela, and Teatro Lope de Vega.

She also graced flamenco festivals in Córdoba, Jerez, and Seville, sharing stages with legends like Manolo Caracol, La Niña de los Peines, and Antonio Mairena. Furthermore, she supported emerging talents such as Antonio Gades, Enrique Morente, and Paco de Lucía.

Death and Legacy

Carmen Amaya’s health deteriorated in the late 1950s, due to a kidney disease that she had suffered since childhood. She continued to perform until the end of her life, despite the pain and the fatigue.

Carmen Amaya passed away on November 19, 1963, in Begur, Spain, leaving behind her seaside home. She was interred in Santander’s Ciriego Cemetery, close to another family residence. Her passing deeply affected the flamenco world and Spanish society, drawing thousands to mourn and honor her as one of the greatest artists ever.

Today, Amaya’s legacy thrives in the flamenco scene and Spain’s cultural history. Revered as the queen of flamenco and a symbol of artistic brilliance, innovation, and diversity, she continues to inspire and captivate flamenco dancers who emulate her style, technique, and repertoire.

Amaya’s memory is also kept alive through various festivals, exhibitions, documentaries, and books, celebrating her life and contributions. Undoubtedly, Carmen Amaya remains one of the most influential and celebrated figures in 20th-century flamenco dance and song.


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