By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.
Although he has fallen into some neglect lately, which makes it rather difficult to find reliable information about him, Natalino Duarte was one of the most important singers to hit the fado scene in the 1950s. In spite of his eternally young looks, Duarte had a very powerful stage presence, and his voice possessed a wide range and a depth that made it perfect to sing different kinds of songs. Duarte was equally at ease with energetic uptempo numbers and with more pensive, slower fados, and he was able to inflect his performances with a very subtle, restrained emotion that turned them into extremely expressive works of art.
Born in Lisbon’s Bairro da Liberdade in 1935, Duarte showed an inclination to fado from a very early age and started singing at fairs and parties when he was only nine. In fact, fado was an important activity in his family: his brother, Carlos Duarte, also made a name for himself as a guitarist. His big break came in 1957, when he landed first place in a fado contest held at the Café Luso. Duarte’s gigs at fado houses were not extremely numerous, but in the 1960s, television appearances brought him a great deal of exposure and popularity that lasted well into the following decade, when he turned to the artistic management of the Páteo Alfacinha, one of the foremost fado houses of its time. Throughout his career, Duarte was backed by accomplished musicians such as Portuguese guitarists António Parreira and Manuel Mendes and guitarists Raul Silva and Carlos Duarte, and he also shared billing with great names like Maria Teresa de Noronha, Filipe Duarte, and Maria Valejo.
Despite his popularity, Natalino Duarte’s recorded legacy is scarce: he only cut fourteen extended-play records, all of which are of a consistently high quality although not easy to find on CD. As a matter of fact, the only one currently available is a volume in the Fados do Fado series (Movieplay, 1998) that features a fine selection of his late-1960s sides, including classics such as “Eu Gosto Daquela Feia,” his beautiful, rather subdued version of the perennial “Coimbra,” the atmospheric “Degraus da Vida,” and Domingos Silva's “Lenda da Fonte,” the song for which he will always be remembered.
After a long association with the Páteo Alfacinha that lasted until his retirement, Natalino Duarte passed away in Lisbon in February 2002. Duarte was a fadista that, despite his very obvious qualities for fado singing, did not seem to take his career too seriously, much preferring to diversify his activities. However, his excellent recordings and his very personal sensibility for fado will always grant him a place among the greatest names of the genre.
Links: For more information on Natalino Duarte in Portuguese, as well as for sound clips and videos of his music, go to Fadocravo - Natalino Duarte: Porque Gosto do Fado and Lisboa No Guinness: Natalino Duarte.