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Carmen Miranda was born Maria Miranda da Cunha in a village in northern Portuguese. She was christened Carmen by her father because of his love for the opera, and also after Bizet's masterpiece Carmen. This passion for opera influenced his children, and Miranda's love for singing and dancing at an early age. She went to school at the Convent of Saint Therese. Her father did not approve of her plans to enter show business. She had previously sung at parties and festivals in Rio. Her older sister Olinda contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Portugal for treatment. Miranda went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister's medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business which became profitable.
Miranda was discovered when she was first introduced to composer José de Barros, who went on to promote and record her first album with Brunswick, a German recording company in 1929. The following year she became the most popular singing star in Brazil, a position she would maintain throughout the 1930s.
The increasing commercialization of popular music helped make Carmen Miranda the first truly national pop icon in Brazil's history. In November 1930, Miranda negotiated a recording contract with RCA Victor, the Brazilian subsidiary of the American music conglomerate. In 1933 went on to sign a two-year contract with the most popular station in the 1930s, becoming the first contract singer in the radio industry history of Brazil. Later she signed a contract with record label RCA Records. In 1934, she was invited to perform as a guest artist on the radio in Buenos Aires. In 1935, Odeon finally got her to sign a contract. This resulted in a number of hits, many of which are now classics of Brazilian music.
Miranda's rise to Brazilian stardom was intricately linked to the growing popularity of a distinctly Brazilian style of music: the samba. The expansion of the samba, and of Miranda's popularity, was greatly supportive of the refiguring of Brazilian nationalism during the regime of President Vargas. Such was her gracefulness and vitality, as apparent in her recordings as in her live performances. Then, in the 1930s, Miranda recorded nearly three hundred songs, many written exclusively for her by Brazil's most renowned composers. While recording or performing on radio and stage, she counted on Brazil's top musicians.
From 1933 to 1939, Brazil's burgeoning film industry, capitalizing on her widespread appeal, featured her in five films, invariably with parts that allowed her to showcase her vocal talent. As with other popular singers of the era, Miranda made her screen debut in a Brazilian documentary. Two years later, she appeared in her first feature film. But it was the 1935 film that seemed to solidify her in the minds of the movie-going public. In the 1936 movie Hello, Hello, Carnival, she performed a famous song with her sister Aurora, for the first time.
During her later career, Miranda would become primarily identified with her colorful fruit-hat costume and image, though she only adopted that costume in 1939. In that year she appeared in the film Banana-da-Terra, where she wore a glamorized version of the traditional costume of a poor black girl of Bahia: flowing dress and fruit-hat turban.
In 1939 the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert visited Rio de Janeiro and witnessed the Brazilian sensation in action after seeing Miranda's extravagant stage show. Shubert immediately offered her a contract to perform in his summer musical, The Streets of Paris. Although she was intrigued by the possibility of performing in New York, Miranda refused to accept the deal unless Shubert agreed to also hire her band. The impresario refused, saying that there were plenty of great musicians in New York who could back her. But Miranda remained steadfast. She felt that North American musicians would not be able to authentically create the sounds of Brazil. As a compromise, Shubert agreed to hire the six band members, but he would not pay for their transport to New York. At this point, President Vargas, realizing the propaganda value of Miranda's tour, stepped in and announced that the Brazilian government would sponsor the band by providing free tickets on the Moore-McCormack Lines between Rio and New York.
He believed that Carmen Miranda would foster greater ties between northern and southern hemispheres and serve as an Ambassadress of Brazil in the United States. This could benefit Brazil economically by increasing its share of the American coffee market. Miranda took very seriously the official sanction of her trip and her duty of representing Brazil to the outside world. She departed to New York aboard ship SS Uruguay on May 4, 1939, on the eve of World War II.
American stage and films
The Streets of Paris, premiered on June 19, 1939, featuring Carmen Miranda to the American public. After seeing one of her performances in Rio, theatre owner Lee Shubert signed Miranda and her band to a contract. In 1939, Miranda sailed from Brazil aboard the ocean liner SS Uruguay, arriving in New York on 18 May. She and the band made their first Broadway performance on 19 June 1939, in The Streets of Paris. Although her part was small (she only spoke four words), Miranda received good reviews and became a media sensation. At the same time, she participated in the Rudy Vallee Show (1929–43), or The Royal Gelatin Hour—one of the most popular American radio shows, broadcast weekly between 8:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. from New York's Radio City Music Hall.
The world's fair was attracting throngs to the Sunken Meadow fairgrounds just outside New York City in the summer of 1939, but Carmen Miranda still managed to make Shubert's show, The Streets of Paris, a commercial success.
Partly because their unusual melody and heavy accented rhythms are unlike anything ever heard in a Manhattan revue before, partly because there is not a clue to their meaning except the gay rolling of Carmen Miranda's insinuating eyes, these songs, and Miranda herself, are the outstanding hit of the show.
Time Magazine dubbed her the "oomph that stops the show." New York audiences were enchanted by her exotic costume and accessories. One critic summed up her surprising appeal: "she is the biggest theatrical sensation of the year." By the end of the summer of 1939, the press lauded Miranda as "the girl who saved Broadway from the World's Fair." Her fame grew quickly, she having been formally presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet shortly after her arrival.
Her American film debut was in Down Argentine Way (1940), a musical produced by 20th Century Fox. Although the film's production and cast were based in Los Angeles, Miranda's scenes were filmed in New York City due to her obligation to perform for a club there. Fox combined the footage from both cities although Miranda has no on-screen dialogue with other cast members. The film was a great success and grossed $2 million that year in the American market.
Miranda was encouraged by the United States government as part of President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America and Europe. It was believed that in delivering content like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. Miranda's contract with 20th Century Fox lasted from 1941 to 1946; this period coincides with the time of World War II (1939–1945) and the creation in 1940 of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), based in Rio de Janeiro, whose goal was to obtain support from governments and Latin American societies for the cause of the United States.
In Popular Culture
Several books and documentaries about Carmen have been made over the years.
Helena Solberg made a documentary of Miranda's life entitled Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business, in 1995.
Brazilian author Roy Castro wrote a biography of Carmen Miranda entitled Carmen, published in 2005 in Brazil. This book has yet to appear in English.
In 2007, the BBC Four produced "Carmen Miranda – Beneath the Hat", a one-hour documentary on Carmen Miranda, that includes interviews with her biographer Roy Castro.
In 2013, the book Carmen Miranda written by Lisa Shaw. It is the first book-length study of Carmen Miranda in English.
The interference was linked to the Good Neighbor policy and Roosevelt sought to forge better diplomatic relations with Brazil and other South American nations, and pledged to refrain from further military intervention, which has sometimes been done to protect U.S. business interests in industries such as mining or agriculture. Hollywood was asked to help out with the Good Neighbor Policy, and both Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox participated. Miranda was considered the goodwill ambassador and promoter of intercontinental culture.
Alan Simpson 12/15/2016
3, premiered on June 19, 1939, featuring Carmen Miranda to the American public. After seeing one of her performances in Rio, theatre owner Lee Shubert signed Miranda and her band to a contract. In 1939, Miranda sailed from Brazil aboard the ocean liner SS Uruguay, arriving in New York on 18 May. She and the band made their first Broadway performance on 19 June 1939, in The Streets of Paris. Although her part was small (she only spoke four words), Miranda received good reviews and became a media sensation. At the same time, she participated in the Rudy Vallee Show (1929–43), or The Royal Gelatin Hour—one of the most popular American radio shows, broadcast weekly between 8:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. from New York's Radio City Music Hall.
In 2007, the BBC Four