Carmen Miranda forever…


She is the woman with the tutti frutti hat. She is the “Brazilian bombshell.” She set the image of what a sexy, beautiful, and tropical South American woman “should” look like. She was American pop culture’s introduction to Brazil. She was the one and only Carmen Miranda, an artist with a magnetism that was unparalleled.


Bananas will eternally be grateful for the marketing they got through Carmen Miranda

Her big smile, her platform shoes, and  her signature fruit-laden hats have inspired drag queens around the world to the point that they should be paying royalties to her estate. And while in the annals of Hollywood’s Technicolor history her image is dated and decadent, in the popular imagination of Brazilians she is a historic figure; a talented singer who left her native land to bring her performance talent to the world.

Check her clips from Hollywood.

Before she became famous in Hollywood, Carmen Miranda was Brazil’s first pop Queen and she already recorded many sambas and carnival songs (called marchinhas)

At the end of this post I’ve embedded the BBC documentary about Carmen’s life , but I thought I’d do a quick run downanyway :

She was born in Portugal in 1909, and moved to Rio de Janeiro Brazil before her first birthday. She grew up in Rio’s Lapa district. Here she mingled with elements of Brazil’s elite as well as artists, Afro-Brazilians and other Portuguese immigrant families. She was a stunning beauty and a gifted singer. A fateful day came when a her talent was discovered by Josué de Barros, a local composer, who took her into the recording studio and got her to record her first hit at the age of 20. The song was “Eu fiz tudo pra voce gosta de mim” or “I did everything for you to like me.” It was an instant hit, and radio being the awesome power that it was back in the day; soon the whole country wanted more of Carmen Miranda! Below is the original version of the song with some present day film students’ video. Just to give you some context, this song is now a standard, and I must have heard it being played over two hundred times during Rio’s carnival last February.

Another hit from the early days in Brazil. “O que que a Baiana tem” posted by DoniSacramento on YouTube. He has quite the collection.

For more videos check this YouTube Carmen Miranda Playlist.

So it was that one thing led to another and within a decade Carmen left Brazil and became a Hollywood sensation. In 1946 she was Hollywood’s highest-paid entertainer earning more than $200,000. Everyone wanted to see Carmen perform and her films were all big successes. The geo-political climate of the times allowed for a performer such as her to come to fruition. In Brazil, the government of Getulio Vargas promoted the “new” Brazilian national identity. Carmen’s humble beginnings and her mix of European and African musical forms was a perfect fit. In the USA President Truman, trying to push his “Good Neighbor” policies for Latin America thought that Carmen Miranda was a great cultural ambassador for the American populace to get behind his foreign policy. Her success wasn’t without some criticism back home and many criticized her for “giving in” to American commercialism of her music.

Below is Carmen singing “Mamae Eu Quero” or “Mommy I want.”  This film shows the crazy exotification of South Americans . The song is Brazilian, a famous carnival marchinha, but the scenario looks more Andalusian from the south of Spain or even Mexican! It was Hollywood scenarios like these that led many Brazilians to criticize Carmen for misrepresenting Brazil in America. Not to be outdone, Carmen replied to them with a clever tune called “Dissem que eu voltei americanizada”  or “They say I’ve come back americanized.” Nevertheless, the criticism hurt her deeply and she did not return to Brazil for another 14 years.

On August 4, 1955, Miranda suffered a heart attack during a segment of the TV show The Jimmy Durante Show. She did not realize it at the time. She returned home that evening, where she suffered a second heart attack and died. Miranda’s body was flown back to Rio de Janeiro where the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. It is estimated that half a million people attended her funeral procession. Check out the documentary, it is really thorough. Carmen Miranda is a patrimony of Brazil, America, and the World.



We love you Carmen. Beijos.

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31 August 2010

2 Responses to “Carmen Miranda forever…”

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