Fado has been described as the Portuguese expression of "the blues," and fado roughly means fate. She was the daughter of Severo Manuel and Ana Gertrudes. Her mother was the owner of a tavern and had the nickname A Barbuda ("the bearded woman").
Severa is said to have been a tall and gracious prostitute, and would sing the fado in taverns, where she would also play the Portuguese guitar.
She is known to have had several lovers, including Francisco de Paula Portugal e Castro, 13th Count of Vimioso, who brought her to attend bullfights (a public and important social event of that time). She died of tuberculosis on November 30, 1846, on Capelão street in Mouraria, Lisbon, and afterward was buried on a common ditch on the cemetery of Alto de São João.
Her fame was due to a novel by Júlio Dantas, entitled A Severa, which was then made into a play and that was brought to stage in 1901. In 1931, director Leitão de Barros turned the play into the first Portuguese film to feature sound, A Severa.
A romantic musical, Maria Severa Onofriana, opened July 19, 2011, at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario.
Book, music and lyrics by Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli, directed by Jackie Maxwell and starring Julie Martell as Maria.