Carmen Miranda

When Carmen Miranda performed, audiences remarked on her vivacity and sparkle. Her voice and stage presence captivated people and made her a favorite star, first in Brazil, and later in the United States. Miranda was born in 1909 in northern Portugal, but her family immigrated to Brazil when she was very young. She began her career as a singer for Brazilian radio stations, but she very quickly leapt to stardom, and began acting in movies as well.  Her fame and talent caught the attention of a Broadway theater owner and producer, Lee Shubert. He convinced her to join his 1939 production of The Streets of Paris and, with the support of the Brazilian government, Miranda and her band went to New York City as goodwill ambassadors to the United States. 

Carmen Miranda was highly successful in the United States, and in addition to major theater appearances, she acted in movies and sang in nightclubs. At the peak of her Hollywood career, she was the highest paid female performer in the United States. However, her success came with drawbacks.  Her first major role in a Hollywood film was as an exotic, volatile stereotype of a Latina, and thereafter she was typically typecast in such roles. Her parts often genericized Latin American cultures and played to stereotypes. This was very well received by American audiences, and fed the interests of the United States' Good Neighbor policy in the 1940s, but it angered critics in South and Central America.  On a return trip home to Brazil in 1940, she was poorly received, and was actually booed off a stage at a charity event she arranged, a drastic change from the adoration she was given before her departure for America.  She did not return to Brazil until shortly before she died in 1955. 

Miranda's greatest legacy, perhaps, is the popularization of the samba. The samba was created by Afro-Latin American musicians with roots in the Carnival celebrations that blended European Catholic traditions with African ones. It was created and originally played in poorer Afro-Latin communities but was increasingly picked up by middle class performers. Miranda was sometimes criticized by whites for performing a form of music they considered vulgar because of its origins, while Afro-Latin Americans have criticized her for appropriating their musical traditions without regard for their culture. Nonetheless, her talent was considerable, and her fame brought samba into the spotlight with her. Miranda popularized the samba first in Brazil on the radio and in films, and later in the United States with her performances there, and the samba has had considerable influences on a wide range of musicians and musical forms since.