Granada-born singer and actress Li Morante was one of Spain’s very first ye-yé girls. However, after just five releases and one film, she quit the entertainment business to focus her energies on promoting the Opus Dei religious organisation. Guateque, from the film Objetivo las estrellas, remains her best-known song.
She was born María Dolores Morante in Granada, southern Spain. Growing up, she took singing lessons from the same school as one María de los Ángeles Rodríguez Fernández, who would later find fame as Spain’s premier ye-yé girl, Gelu.
Li Morante – as she would become known – began her career at the age of 16. Radio Granada’s Mercedes Domenech helped her gain an audition with bosses at the Philips label. They were won over by her powerful voice and movie-star beauty, and were quick to offer the teenager a recording contract.
Llámame was issued as the young singer’s first EP, in 1962. The song choice was decidedly poor. All four songs on the release were rather old fashioned, and the lead track was a cover of Spain’s entry to that year’s Eurovision song contest – a song that had finished in last place for Victor Balaguer, having scored no points. Justifiably, the record was ignored.
Things could only get better, as the sexy Tafetán, her second EP, proved. Issued in the autumn of 1962, its more modern, danceable lead track – plus some decent cover versions to complete the EP – gave the singer her first hit.
The success of the song – and Li’s good looks – attracted the attention of film producer Cesáreo González, and he signed her up to a four-film deal. Objetivo las estrellas became her first cinematic release, in 1963.
Good reviews helped boost her profile, and her third EP for Philips did well as a result. The lead track, Guateque, a version of US singer Claudine Clark’s Party time, was included in the soundtrack to the film and remains Li’s best-known recording. Issued in 1963, it heralded the arrival of ye-yé in Spain.
With it, Li became a household name. She was soon to realise, however, that there was a price to pay.
Dame felicidad was issued as her follow up. It was a well-rounded release, with a strong set of songs that captured the mood of the moment. The only drawback was that countless other singers had also issued versions of the lead track, and they all ended up competing in a sales war that helped no one.
Further familiar songs – Bienvenido amor, Dile (Li’s take on The Exciters’ Tell him) and El ritmo de la lluvia (The Cascades’ Rhythm of the rain) – completed the release. Nevertheless, for many fans, it remains her best work.
Numerous live appearances and even a small tour of the US kept Li at the top of her game.
The release in 1964 of No tengo edad para amarte, a version of Gigliola Cinquetti’s Italian Eurovision song contest winner, Non ho l’età, also sold well. (Again, she was by no means the only Spanish singer to record the song – both Gelu and Rosalía cut alternative versions.)
However, Li wasn’t happy with life on the road and what she saw as a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It sat uncomfortably with her strong religious beliefs. So, at the very height of her fame, she jacked it all in. (Her father would later have to buy her out of her film contract.)
Enjoying her new life out of the limelight, Li married and had children.
She later began teaching about the Opus Dei and remains a vocal supporter of the Catholic organisation to this day.
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