Elly Ameling was born in Rotterdam. She later sang with Pierre Bernac. She won the first prize during the Vocal Concours in the IVC Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands (1956) and the Concours International de Musique in Geneva (1958).
After her professional début as a concert singer in Rotterdam in 1953, she performed for more than forty years in virtually every major cultural centre in the world. She appeared with most of the leading international orchestras and conductors, including Bernard Haitink, Rafael Kubelík, Carlo Maria Giulini, Benjamin Britten, Seiji Ozawa, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, Karl Münchinger, André Previn, and Edo de Waart.
She made her career mainly as a concert and lieder singer with some excursions into opera (Mozart, Haydn) and became world-renowned for her recitals of French and German songs and for her superlative interpretive gifts. She is equally at home in chamber music, orchestral music, operas, and oratorios. She made her U.S. recital debut at New York’s Lincoln Center in 1968 and her opera debut in 1974 as Ilia in Mozart’s Idomeneo in Washington, D.C. In 1974, Ameling also performed for the Peabody Mason Concert series in Boston.
Contemporary works, particularly by her countrymen Bertus van Lier and Robert Heppener, are also part of her large repertoire. Ameling has recorded more than 150 albums and has won many coveted recording prizes, including The Edison Award, the Grand Prix du Disque and the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik. For her services to music, Dr. Ameling has been awarded four honorary degrees and has been knighted, in 1971, by Her Majesty the Queen of The Netherlands for her services to music (the Order of Orange-Nassau) and in 2008 she received the highest civil decoration in the Netherlands, the Order of the Netherlands Lion.