Carmen Miranda, Brazilian Samba Ambassador

“Look at me and tell me if I don’t have Brazil in every curve of my body.”

Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, known by CARMEN MIRANDA, was born in Portugal (Marco de Canaveses), February 9,1909. When she was 10 months old, her father emigrated to Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro, where he opened a barbershop, and she moved with the family. In Brazil, her parents had four more children. Carmem never went back to Portugal and retained her Portuguese nationality. 

The city of Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil at that time. One of the most important languages spoken was French, and the first job was with a Frenchwoman in a hat store, a place where she started to design her hats and also discovered her musical talent.

Carmen Miranda had an exotic image, with a Lusophone accent and extravagant outfit. She started to be a reference as she created her own costumes, with colourful accessories, adorns, shoes, tall hats and turbans decorated with fruits, which became her trademark.

Inspired by the fruit vendors she regularly saw in Rio de Janeiro, the “baianas”, Afro-Brazilian from the northeastern state of Bahia, she was the artist who showed a bit of Brazil to the whole world. Samba singer, dancer, actress and movie star Carmen was popular from the 30s to 50s and remains today the symbol of Brazilianness.

“If I speak a good English, I lose my job.”

Carmen Miranda

“Her success in the United States was about speaking bad English.”

Aurora Miranda, Carmen’s sister

She got an invitation to perform in “The Streets of Paris” by a Broadway producer after watching her at Cassino da Urca, in Rio de Janeiro. Then she made her first Hollywood film and became the third-most-popular personality in the United States. She was invited to sing and dance for President Roosevelt and made sure that her band, Bando da Lua, went with her to the US to feature Brazilian samba together.

Considered the precursor of Brazil’s 1960s Tropicalismo cultural movement, Miranda’s performances popularised Brazilian music and increased public awareness of Latin culture around the globe.

Caetano Veloso appeared dressed as Miranda in January 1972, in his first show after his return to Brazil from London.

As a legitimate Brazilian, she transmits sympathy, joy and cordiality. Carmen could absorb Brazilian culture with intensity and understanding of both city and favela.

“She made possible everything that came after.”

Caetano Veloso

Greatest Brazilian music performer of all time. She transformed the music into an audiovisual performance. As a multi-talented artist: she performed in casinos and nightclubs to radio, film, TV, theatre, recorded around 270 sambas, 38 discos and sold about 35,000 discos.

Carmen recorded more than twenty songs among the Tangos, from the most popular Brazilian authors, such as Ary Barroso, Pixinguinha, Noel Rosa, Cartola and Assis Valente.

“She was very fellow of the composers. She was one of those who believed that the real source of success is the composer and not the interpretation itself.

Dorival Caymmi.

“Carmen released a Bahian composer with a song “A preta do acarajé”, changing a Salvador night scene of the time,” said the musician Dorival Caymmi.

The pressure on the originality of her figure was so huge that, when she returned to the country in 1940, Carmen Miranda responded to her critics with one of his biggest hits, samba: “They said I came back Americanized / But I can’t be American / Can I be American? / I was born with samba and live in the serene / Singing all night long in the old batucada.”

We can find her collections donated by her husband and sister to the museum built in Rio de Janeiro in her honour: Museum of Image and Sound (MIS) and many stories of her in the documentary “Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business.”

Her figure appeared in cartoons, such as Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, also in the romantic fantasy film “The Shape of Water” (2017), which features Miranda’s hit song “Chica Chica Boom Chic”. 

When she died on August 5, 1955, her body was sent to Brazil, and the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. A crowd of 60,000 people attended her mourning ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.