Portuguese-Canadian singer and songwriter Nelly Furtado was born on December 2, 1978, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Her Portuguese parents, António José Furtado and Maria Manuela Furtado, were born on São Miguel Island in the Azores and had immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s. Nelly was named after Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim.Her siblings are Michael Anthony and Lisa Anne. They were raised Roman Catholic. She began performing and singing in Portuguese in 1982. Furtado’s first public performance was when she sang a duet with her mother at a church on Portugal Day. She began playing musical instruments at the age of nine, learning the trombone, ukulele and, in later years, the guitar and keyboards. At the age of 12, she began writing songs, and as a teenager, she performed in a Portuguese marching band. Furtado has acknowledged her family as the source of her strong work ethic; she spent eight summers working as a chambermaid with her mother, along with her brother and sister, who was a housekeeper in Victoria. She has stated that coming from a working class background has shaped her identity in a positive way.
During a visit with her sister Lisa Anne in Toronto, Furtado met Tallis Newkirk, member of the hip hop group Plains of Fascination. She contributed vocals to their 1996 album, Join the Ranks, on the track “Waitin’ 4 the Streets”. After graduating from Mount Douglas Secondary School in 1996, she moved to Toronto to reside with her sister Lisa Anne. The following year, she formed Nelstar, a trip hop duo with Newkirk. Ultimately, Furtado felt the trip hop style of the duo was “too segregated”, and believed it did not represent her personality or allow her to showcase her vocal ability. She left the group and planned to move back home.
In 1997, she performed at the Honey Jam talent show and her performance attracted the attention of The Philosopher Kings singer Gerald Eaton, who then approached her to write with him. He and fellow Kings member Brian West helped Furtado produce a demo. She left Toronto, but returned again to record more material with Eaton and West. The material recorded during these sessions led to her 1999 record deal with DreamWorks Records, signed by A&R executive Beth Halper, partner of Garbage drummer and record producer Butch Vig. Furtado’s first single, “Party’s Just Begun (Again)”, was released in 1999 on the Brokedown Palace: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Furtado also collaborated with Eaton and West, who co-produced her debut album, Whoa, Nelly!, which was released in October 2000 and contained the songs “I’m Like a Bird”, “Turn Off the Light”, and “…On the Radio (Remember the Days)”. It received four Grammy nominations in 2002, and her debut single won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Portions of The song “Scared of You” are sung in Portuguese, while “Onde Estás” is entirely in Portuguese, reflecting Furtado’s Portuguese heritage. Furtado also appeared on the song “Thin Line”, on underground hip hop group Jurassic 5’s album Power in Numbers, Furtado also provided her vocals to the Paul Oakenfold song “The Harder They Come” from the album Bunkka. She also had a collaboration with Colombian artist Juanes in the song “Fotografía” (“Photograph”).
Furtado was also featured in “Breath” from Swollen Members’ Monsters in the Closet release; the video for “Breath”, directed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, won the 2003 Western Canadian Music Awards Outstanding Video and MuchVIBE Best Rap Video. In 2002, Furtado was the recipient of an International Achievement Award at the SOCAN Awards in Toronto for her song “I’m Like a Bird. Furtado’s work was also critically acclaimed for her innovative mixture of various genres and sounds. And was described as “a delightful and refreshing antidote to the army of ‘pop princesses’ and rap-metal bands that had taken over popular music at the turn of the millennium”.
In 2003 Furtado released her second album Folklore containing the single “Powerless (Say What You Want)”, “Childhood Dreams”, was dedicated to her daughter, Nevis. The album includes the single “Força” (meaning “strength”/ “power” or “you can do it!” in Portuguese), the official anthem of the 2004 European Football Championship. Plus the songs Powerless (Say What You Want)” and the ballad “Try”. Powerless (Say What You Want)” was later remixed into a Spanish version called “Abre Tu Corazón”, featuring Juanes, who had previously worked with Furtado on his track “Fotografía”.
Furtado released her third album Loose in 2006. This became her best selling album with 12 million copies sold worldwide The album spawned four successful number one singles; “Promiscuous”, “Maneater”, “Say It Right” and “All Good Things (Come to an End)”. Juanes also collaborated on “Te Busqué” (“I Searched for You”), a single from Furtado’s 2006 album Loose. In 2003, Furtado won an International Achievement Award at the SOCAN Awards in Toronto for her song “Turn Off the Light”. She released her first Spanish language album Mi Plan in 2009 which won her a Latin Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Album. In 2012 Furtado released her fifth album The Spirit Indestructible. In 2017, Furtado released her sixth album titled The Ride.