Carmen Miranda, the famous Portuguese-Brazilian actress and singer, was born in 1909 in Portugal. Her artistic career in Brazil and the United States spanned the 1930s until the 1950s. She worked in radio, theatre, cinema and television, and, at that time, was the highest paid female artist ever in the United States.
Shortly after she was born, her father immigrated to Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro. In 1910, her mother followed him, accompanied by her oldest daughter Olinda, and Carmen, just under a year old. In Rio de Janeiro, the father opened a barber shop and Carmen studied at the Santa Teresa convent school, in Lapa. Her first job, at the age of 14, was at tie store. Later she worked in a hat store.
In 1929, Carmen was introduced to composer Josué de Barros, who, captivated by her talent, began to promote her to record companies and theatres. In that same year, she recorded her first album for German record label Brunswick, with the samba song Não Vá Sim’bora and the mellower choro Se o Samba É Moda.
Her breakthrough success came in 1930, when she recorded the carnival song Pra Você Gostar de Mim (Taí), by Joubert de Carvalho. Newspaper O País hailed her as the greatest Brazilian singer. In October she went on her first international tour, performing in Buenos Aires. She returned to Argentina the following year to perform for a month at Rádio Belgrano.
In 1936, she starred in the movie Alô, Alô Carnaval. In that same year, Carmen Miranda joined the cast of the Urca Cassino, in Rio de Janeiro. In the following years she divided her time between the casino stage and frequent tours throughout Brazil and Argentina. In 1939, Carmen starred in the musical Streets of Paris, in Boston, a roaring box office hit and applauded by critics. Her theatre performances made her increasingly more famous. In 1940, she performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House gala dinner.
Later that year she returned to Brazil. The public gave her a warm welcome, but she was criticized by politicians for having become too “Americanized”. She recorded her last albums in Brazil and in October of that same year she returned to the United States, where she left her shoe and hand prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, outside the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. Between 1942 and 1953, she starred in 13 Hollywood productions and performed on all major radio and television shows, nightclubs, casinos and theatres.
Since the beginning of her American career, Carmen had been using medication to keep up with her hectic schedule. She became addicted to uppers and downers, while also smoking and drinking. Her excessive medication use caused a series of symptoms, which American doctors wrongly diagnosed as fatigue.
In December of 1954, Carmen returned to Brazil after 14 years. Her Brazilian doctor diagnosed her drug addiction and tried to get her off the medication. She spent four months at the Copacabana Palace Hotel undergoing treatment. Her condition improved, but she didn’t completely give up her medication, alcohol and cigarettes. Somewhat recovered, she returned to the United States in April of 1955 and resumed her performances and tours to Cuba and Las Vegas, once again resorting to medication.
In August of 1955 she suffered a massive heart attack and was found dead on the floor of her house in Beverly Hills, 46 years old. Her embalmed body was shipped to Rio de Janeiro where 60.000 people attended the wake in the lobby of the City Hall of Brazil’s capital at the time. More than half a million people accompanied the funeral procession to São João Batista Cemetery, singing the song Taí, one of her greatest hits. The following year, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Negrão de Lima, signed a decree to found the Carmen Miranda Museum, which was only inaugurated in 1976, in Aterro do Flamengo Park.
Watch some videos about Carmem Miranda and her songs
Recorded with Dorival Caymmi and the Conjunto Regional on February 27, 1939
Tico Tico no Fuba
Mamãe Eu Quero
Aquarela do Brasil