With a style that bridges angsty '90s alt-rock and a smoother adult alternative sound suited to her warm, refined voice, Italian singer and songwriter Elisa hit the Top Ten in her native Italy with her debut album, 1997's Pipes & Flowers.
She became a regular presence on the charts thereafter, topping the singles chart with 2003's "Almeno Tu Nell'universo" and scoring her first number one album in Italy with 2009's Heart. Subsequent number ones included the all-Italian-language L'Anima Vola (2013) and the dance-pop-influenced On (2016).
Born in 1977 in Trieste, Elisa Toffoli grew up enamored with music, spending hours of her childhood singing along with recordings by a wide diversity of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Ozzy Osbourne, Liza Minnelli, Ray Charles, and Madonna. Later, still not even in her teens, Elisa took guitar lessons so she could accompany herself, and began writing songs. At 14 she became a member of a blues and rock band called Seven Roads (the "Seven" came from the fact that there were seven members). Elisa then moved onto singing for cover bands to gain more experience and pay. When she was 16, she joined a big band, the Blue Swing Orchestra.
In 1994, Elisa, with the help of a family friend, finished her first demo. That demo made it to Sugar Records. A year later Elisa was in San Francisco, recording her first single for the well-known producer Corrado Rustici; the single carried two tracks, "Inside a Flower" and "So Delicate So Pure." In 1997, Elisa recorded her debut full-length album, Pipes & Flowers, which went double platinum. After drawing some comparisons to Alanis Morissette, Elisa was named one of the best new artists for 1997 by the Italian Music Awards. She also won the Premio Tenco Award in 1998 for best debut album.
In 2000, she completed her sophomore album, Asile's World. It performed well on the charts, but she soon found more fame when she finished first at the 2001 Sanremo competition with the single "Luce (Tramonti a Nord Est)," which featured Italian lyrics co-written with Zucchero. The album Then Comes the Sun, released that same year, didn't include "Luce," but it did include one of her best-known singles, "Dancing." The song was later used by the television dance show So You Think You Can Dance. A self-titled English album was released in 2002 for international audiences, which helped expand her worldwide fan base.
Upon its release, 2003's Lotus became Elisa's highest-charting album to that point. Recorded live, it featured new versions of her previous hits as well as several covers, including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale." Her hard-rocking follow-up, the Glen Ballard-produced Pearl Days, debuted at number two in Italy when it was released in 2004, paving the way for her hits compilation Soundtrack '96-'06. Another collection, Caterpillar, was aimed at an international audience. Elisa's sixth studio album, 2009's Heart, became her first number one in Italy. It featured the single "Ti Vorrei Sollevare" (featuring Giuliano Sangiorgi of Negramaro) as well as a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" and a duet with Antony Hegarty. Within a year, Elisa had released another album, Ivy. An acoustic set, it included three new songs alongside reworkings of her previous hits -- much like 2003's Lotus -- and covers including one of the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979."
Released in September 2013, L'Anima Vola was Elisa's first LP to consist entirely of Italian-language songs. The album went to number one and charted for over 18 months, going double platinum. Included was "Ancora Qui," which she recorded with Ennio Morricone for inclusion on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack for Django Unchained. Three years later, Elisa returned with On and topped the album chart yet again. Taking inspiration from childhood diaries, her Island Records debut, 2018's Diari Aperti, debuted at number two. ~ Charlotte Dillon & Marcy Donelson, Rovi