MIRANDA, Carmen: South American Way

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CARMEN MIRANDA South American Way

Original 1939-1945 Recordings

If you were to make a mental list of the things thatsymbolized American popular culture in the 1940s, somewhere on that list wouldbe Carmen Miranda.  She flashedacross the show business sky briefly, but she blazed a distinctive trail thatlingers warmly in memory more than fifty years later.  The fact that Latin American rhythms and melodies are sofreely accepted by today's record buyers is at least partly due to Miranda, whowas at the forefront of the Latin American craze of the 1940s.

In truth, Miranda was a star long before she lit up Broadwayin 1939's Streets of Paris.  BornMaria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha in Portugal on 9 February 1909, her familyimmigrated to Rio de Janeiro when she was a child.  Miranda and her sister,  Aurora, therefore grew up exposed not just to thetraditional Portugese music and culture of their parents, but also the nativerhythms and melodies of Brazil. Both children had natural talent and outgoing personalities, but Carmenwas the one who built the largest public following when she was just ateenager, singing in local clubs, on radio, in the recording studio and in ahandful of Brazilian films.

When Americans began to respond to the Latin music ofperformers such as bandleader Xavier Cugat in the late 1930s, producers jumpedon the bandwagon.  Brought to NewYork to appear with the comedians Olsen and Johnson in Streets of Paris, shequickly became the toast of the town, the liveliest act to hit Broadway inyears.  Her big number in the show,South American Way, soared to the top of the charts and got frequent radioplay, spreading her fame all across the U.S.

As America went Latin crazy, it was only natural thatHollywood should want to latch on to this latest fad.  Miranda's signing by 20th Century-Fox also coincided withHollywood's push to develop the South American market as a partial replacementfor the loss of European bookings due to the Nazis.  As well, the U.S. government was pushing for greaterPan-American cooperation and expanded ties between North and SouthAmerica.  In very short order,Miranda became the unofficial poster girl of that movement.

Miranda's first Hollywood film was the Betty Grable-DonAmeche musical, Down Argentina Way. One of her numbers was a reprise of her by-now trademark South AmericanWay.  Such was her fame (or Fox'sdilemma in not knowing quite how to present her) that Miranda was simplyshowcased as a famous Brazilian bombshell named Carmen Miranda!  Down Argentina Way was a box officebonanza.  It not only launchedMiranda's American film career, but also established Betty Grable as a top starand set the pattern for a whole string of Fox Technicolor musicals during thewar years.

One of the Hollywood people who developed a deep affectionand admiration for Miranda on the set of the film was songwriter Harry Warren,who wrote the music for five of her Fox musicals.  He found her very warm, kind-hearted and completely lackingany of the typical star arrogance or pretensions.  He particularly enjoyed her vitality and that of her Bandode Lua, the small group of Brazilian musicians who she insisted appear in herfilms.  Warren once said thatAmerican performers could do these numbers and do them well, but they neverseemed to be having the kind of fun that he detected in Miranda and her musicalgroup.

Fox executives quickly rushed Miranda into another LatinAmerican romp, titled That Night in Rio, this time firmly integrated into theplot and not just as a drop-in musical diversion.  The string of musicals that followed all presented Mirandain a variation on this character: the Brazilian firecracker who mangled her English dialogue, caused allmanner of comic plot complications, but then came off better than anyone elsethanks to her high-octane musical numbers.

While critics back home in Brazil were reportedly infuriatedthat she would play such stereotypical Latin roles, audiences elsewhere werethrilled.  She always played theparts so tongue-in-cheek that it's hard to imagine anyone ever thought she wasthe characters she portrayed.  Andwho could not smile and tap their foot in time with priceless performances suchas her Portugese version of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's Chattanooga ChooChoo?  Certainly with the benefitof hindsight today, the judgement of even the most fervent Braziliannationalists would have to be that she did her country much good by planting itfirmly in the public consciousness of the 1940s.

Fortunately for record buyers then and listeners today,Miranda managed to escape Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck's edict againstrecording.  His theory was thatmoviegoers would be less inclined to go to his movies if they could buyrecordings by his musical stars. Fox film contracts forbade artists to sign simultaneous recordingcontracts with the big U.S. record companies.  But that couldn't be applied retroactively to artists whoalready had record deals.  Mirandahad been signed by Decca Records soon after she triumphed on Broadway.  She cut six sides for the company inNew York in 1939 and went on making discs all through her Fox contract.  Her Decca recordings included  Brazilian hits such as Bambu-Bambu andMama Eu Quero, as well as new Warren-Gordon songs from the Fox films, includingthe memorable I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much) and Chica Chica Boom Chic.

Predictably, the fire of Miranda's early film fame cooledbut wasn't extinguished.  By theend of the Second World War, Latin American music had gone from being topicalto being typical.  Her Fox contractwas not renewed and she went on make occasional films at MGM, RKO and otherstudios as a freelancer.  She wasalso in demand for radio and stage work, scoring a huge success in aseason-long run at London's Palladium in 1948.  And when television began to seriously divert audiences fromboth radio and movies in the early 1950s, Miranda's career heated up.  She was a popular guest on many of thebig variety-style shows that were a cornerstone of the early U.S. televisionschedule.

It was while rehearsing a number for the Jimmy Durante Showon 5 August 1955, that she stumbled and said she felt out of breath.  Later that night, she died of a heartattack at the age of 46.  InBrazil, where she had frequently been criticized for promoting an image ofSouth Americans that was not always to her countrymen's pleasing, she wasmourned deeply when her body was flown home for burial.  The fiery little dynamo was gone, butthe legend started to live.

This Naxos collection features 21 of the songs Mirandarecorded in the U.S. for Decca. It's a well-balanced collection of her Brazilian hits and the newHollywood material written especially for her unique talents.  The amazing thing you will find inlistening to it is that it creates a vivid mental picture of her even withoutthe benefit of celluloid images. As the songs spin, you can see her again as she was in all her 1940sTechnicolor glory - carooming around in her nine-inch platform shoes, themulti-hued clothing twirling and swirling around her tiny frame as she sambasand rhumbas, the outrageous fruit-topped headgear somehow staying precariouslyperched atop her head.  And, aboveall, the sound of sheer joy as she belts out her songs.  Nearly half-a-century after her death,listening to Carmen Miranda is still just plain fun. 

Disc: 1
Tico Tico
1 Bambu-Bambu
2 Mama Eu Quero
3 O Que E Que a Bahiana Tem
4 South American Way
5 Co, Co, Co, Co, Co, Co, Ro (Machinha do, Grande Ga
6 Touradas Em Madrid
7 I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much)
8 Alo Alo
9 Chica Chica Boom Chic
10 Bambale
11 Cae Cae
12 Arca de Noe
13 Diz Que Tem
14 Rebola a Bola
15 Nao Te Dou a Chupeta
16 Chattanooga Choo Choo
17 Boneca de Pixe
18 Tic Tic Tac do Meu Coracao
19 O Passo do Kanguru (Brazilly Willy)
20 Upa Upa
21 Tico Tico
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