Cesaria Evora, 70, who started singing as a teenager in the bayside bars of Cape Verde in the 1950s and won a Grammy in 2003 after she took her African islands music to stages across the world, died Saturday.

Ms. Evora, known as the "Barefoot Diva" because she always performed without shoes, died in the Baptista de Sousa Hospital in Mindelo, on her native island of Sao Vicente in Cape Verde, her label Lusafrica said in a statement on its website.

Ms. Evora retired in September because of health problems.

She sang the traditional music of the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa, a former Portuguese colony. She mostly sang in the version of creole spoken there, but even audiences who couldn't understand the lyrics were moved by her stirring renditions, her unpretentious manner, and the music's infectious beat.

Her singing style brought comparisons to American jazz singer Billie Holiday. "She belongs to the aristocracy of bar singers," French newspaper Le Monde said in 1991, adding that Ms. Evora had "a voice to melt the soul."

Ms. Evora's international fame came late in life. Her 1988 album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (Barefoot Diva), recorded in France, where she first found popularity, launched her international career.

Her 1995 album Cesaria was released in more than a dozen countries and brought her first Grammy nomination, leading to a tour of major concert halls around the world and album sales in the millions.

She won a Grammy in the World Music category of the 2003 awards for her album Voz D'Amor.

Ms. Evora, known to her close friends as Cize, was the best-known performer of morna, Cape Verde's national music. It is a complex, soulful sound, mixing an array of influences arising from the African and seafaring traditions of the 10 volcanic islands.

- AP