Fernanda y Bernarda de Utrera on Apple Music

Fernanda y Bernarda de Utrera

Singer Fernanda de Utrera articulated the anguish and drama of flamenco with supernatural intensity — famed for her mastery of the soleares form, she was nevertheless fluent in all of the music's iterations, communicating the depths of the human heart with a piercing cry that transcends language and culture. Born Fernanda Jiminez Peña in Utrera, Spain, on February 8, 1923, she was a product of the Pininis, an extended clan that is the royal family of the flamenco tradition. With younger sister Bernarda, her lifelong performing partner, Fernanda began her singing career at age ten, joining other family members (including her grandfather, Pinini patriarch Fernando Peña) at local fiestas. Word of the sisters' immense talent quickly spread throughout the foothills of the Sierra de Cádiz, and in 1952 they appeared in Edgar Neville's film Duende y Misterio del Flamenco. But for the Pininis flamenco remained more a way of life than a vocational path, and only in 1957 was the maestro Antonio Mairena finally able to convince Fernanda and Bernarda's parents to endorse a professional music career.

Mairena negotiated the siblings' first performances in the tablaos (flamenco nightclubs) of Madrid, and stints at the Corral de la Morería, Torres Bermejas, and Las Brujas made them superstars. Though most widely celebrated for her sublime interpretations of the soleares, Fernanda was also a skilled interpreter of tangos, fandangos, and cantiñas, articulating the very essence of the duende spirit at flamenco's melancholy heart. Although Fernanda and Bernarda appeared at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, both women were far too attached to Utrera to stray too far from their home, and they headlined few performances outside of the tablao circuit. Fernanda nevertheless made a number of recordings with Bernarda and as a solo artist, and in the autumn of her career appeared in two feature films, 1987's La Casa de Bernarda Alba and 1995's Flamenco. In November 2005, Spain's King Juan Carlos awarded the sisters the Gold Medal for Fine Arts. Fernanda de Utrera died at her family home on August 24, 2006 — upon news of her passing, Utrera civic leaders declared three days of mourning.

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