Brazil’s Legend Ary

 Brazil's Legend Ary

Ary Barroso was the
dominant figure of Brazil’s "Radio Era" (the
decades of the thirties, forties and fifties) but his immense
versatility overflowed from music to lead him into journalism,
humor, theater, sports writing and politics as well. He created
an original personality for himself, endowed with great humor.
by: Cecília


"I was not a spectator of the history of samba. I was a protagonist!"

It is impossible to separate
the name of Ary Barroso from that of his most famous composition, considered
to be "our other National Anthem": "Aquarela do Brasil"
(Watercolor of Brazil).

Just as it is impossible
to hear that music without plunging into the green-yellow (patriotic) atmosphere
of the "Brazilian Brazil" that it recreates, sensual as the sultriness
of the mulata from Bahia, luminous as a summer morning, lofty as an
adjective unfurled in the wind of the world by the dictatorship of the Estado
Novo—it is the prototype of the "samba of exaltation"—and
eternal, because together with "Na baixa do sapateiro," also by
Ary, it is one of the 20 most recorded songs on the planet.

Using a great variety
of rhythms, from samba (in its various types) to Carnaval marches, waltzes,
toadas and songs, batuques and cateretês, and taking
advantage of foreign rhythms such as tangos, foxtrots, and even a mazurka,
Ary Barroso is still among the ten greatest composers of MPB and one of its
best interpreters as pianist.

And he left us a rich
and varied repertoire, with a discography that spans a period of 34 years:
from his first recording, of the samba "Vou à Penha" (I am
going to Penha), sung by Mario Reis in 1928, to the samba-canção
"Em Noite de Lua" (On a moonlit night), written in partnership
with Vinicius de Moraes and interpreted by Angela Maria in 1962—two
years before the death of the composer, at 60, of cirrhosis of
the liver.

Ary Barroso was the dominant
figure of our "Radio Era"—the decades of the thirties, forties
and fifties—but his immense versatility overflowed from the domain of
musical creation to lead him into journalism, humor, theater, sports writing
and politics as well. He created an original personality for himself, endowed
with great humor, and present in the daily life of the country.

His passion, besides music,
was soccer—he was a Flamengo fanatic. And if as a sports announcer he
completely changed radio broadcasts, emphasizing the goals with an ever-present
harmonica, and introducing techniques that have lasted to the present
day, his adoration for his team always excited him, preventing him from adopting
an impartial attitude.

Elected representative
for the National Democratic Union (UDN) in 1947, he stood out for his participation
in the public life of Rio de Janeiro—among many other projects that he
supported, he was one of the principals responsible for the construction of
soccer stadium Maracanã. He was also unfailingly active in defense
of the authorial rights of composers and artists, having been founder and
president of the Brazilian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of
Music (SBACEM).

Orphan—Poor and

The childhood of Ary Evangelista
Barroso, born Nov. 7, 1903, in Ubá (Minas Gerais state), was not easy.
Orphaned of his parents at seven and a half—both victims of tuberculosis—he
was brought up by his maternal grandmother and a widowed aunt.

Much loved by his nephew,
Aunt Ritinha would be a great influence in his

career, but she was responsible
for the "worst hours of my life", as the composer would say later,
since she obliged him to study piano three hours at a stretch, daily, with
the technique she had at her disposal: she used to put a saucer on the back
of his hands, who had to do play scale without letting it fall off.

In a 1961 interview, Ary
related: "She used to punish me with a switch of quince. I hated that.
I never imagined that martyrdom would end up by giving me the means of earning
a living." Because at 12 he was already taking turns with Aunt Ritinha
at the piano of the Cine Ideal, accompanying the silent films.

The mischievous adolescent
had a lot of difficulty in finishing his secondary school studies. He went
to various schools, was expelled form some of them, until he ended up in the
school at Cataguases, "where Antonio Amaro, the unforgettable teacher,
managed to tame somewhat my excesses and my craziness."

In the memory of the little
citizen of Ubá, one of these "crazinesses" was narrated by
Sergio Cabral, in No Tempo de Ary Barroso (Lumiar Editora):
leaving his house secretly, during the night, Ary joined a friend and they
headed for the ruins of the Church of São José, thought to be
haunted, and a horse used during the day in collecting trash was grazing.

Tying the animal’s tail
to the bell rope, they spread panic throughout the city, since every time
the horse moved the bell would toll. When one of the more courageous citizens
resolved to confront the ghosts, it was poor Zé do Chinelo, the owner
of the animal and the trash wagon who was arrested. But he was released several
hours later, when Ary decided to confess all. He was grounded for several
days, unable to leave the house.

At 17 he had a stroke
of luck: with the death of an uncle, the adolescent inherited a sum considered
to be "fabulous" for the period, 40 contos de réis.
In the opinion of the family, it was enough to support him through the end
of his law school in Rio de Janeiro. A sad mistake: his bohemian habits and
elegant nights on the town ran through the little fortune in three years.

It was then that the pedagogical
thrashings of Aunt Ritinha were more valuable than ever. Ary used his immense
talent and refined technique as a pianist to work in boîtes (night
clubs), in revues, in cinemas, and thus was able to finish his schooling in
the law. But music had already become a career: "One who is born to be
a priest already has the tonsure in the cradle. It seems like I was filled
with music from the day I gave my first wail. And it never left."

The Composer

Ary’s first song had already
been written in Ubá, in 1918—the cateretê "De
longe," recorded by Carmen Miranda to a samba rhythm in 1932. From 1924
to 1928, when he was traveling with orchestras, he would fill his musical
notebooks with all sorts of sambas.

On returning to Rio de
Janeiro, in 1927, he looked up the Vitale brothers [now an important music
publishing house], but they "had no resources"—a trumped-up
excuse, well known to all young composers or writers, but a friendship began
which, not much later, would pour a river of money to the publishers and composer.

In the two years following
the "student" Ary battled with renewed fervor to stabilize his financial
position. The reason: he had fallen madly in love and wanted to marry Ivone
Arantes—Ivoninha—who he had met when she was 13 years old and he
was 22. She was the youngest daughter of the owners of the boarding house
where Ary lived and would become his companion for life.

Always on tour and busy
with music, he began to make a name for himself. In an interview with Diário
da Noite, about to turn 26, he said: "I came a cropper in
the theater, where I made my debut in the revue Laranja da China, by
Olegário Mariano." And he announced: "I intend to abandon
this bittersweet profession. I will cultivate another field. Only God knows
if this will be for good or bad."

But God was not willing.
The other "field" was law, but Dr. Ary Barroso, after using connections
to obtain a position as public prosecutor in a little city lost in Minas Gerais,
could hang up his diploma and not give it another thought—his marchinha
"Dá Nela," entered at the last minute, five minutes before
midnight on Dec. 30, 1929, the deadline for the competition for Carnival songs
promoted by Casa Édison, had won first place, with a royal prize: 5
contos de réis.

He would describe this
moment in a 1956 interview: "When the decision was announced, applause
burst forth from everywhere. I was overcome. They carried me. They acclaimed
me. I got a prize of 5 contos de réis!…there, in the old Teatro
Lírico, on that night in 1930, I got the courage to make my way forward
in life…I was able to get married because of the prize money."

And he also did not leave
the theater. Until the end of his life he would devote much time to musical
revues, writing scores and entire shows, and even performing as a musician.
In 1957, the producer Walter Machado would pay homage to him with a brilliant
biographical show, Mr. Samba.


Ary was brought to radio
by Renato Murce in 1933. He would make brief appearances in various programs,
and participated in a famous polemic against Henrique Pongetti., on Radio
Philips. Pongetti defended a fake maxixe, "Carioca," which
RKO had created for the film Flying down to Rio, as "spectacular".
For Ary and Murce, the film was nothing more than "a pile of foolishness
filmed in a studio".

But the turning point
of his career would not take place in Rio de Janeiro, but in São Paulo,
where he arrived when his great friend and musical partner Luís Peixoto
was invited to direct Radio Cosmos there in September 1935. Together they
created a variety program which had an enormous impact, Hora H (H Hour).
Four months later, Ary would write to Renato Murce telling him of their success.
But he asked him, for the love of God, to call him back to Rio, because he
was dying to see the sea again.

Murce invited him to work
with him in Hora só—Rindo (Just an Hour- Laughing), on
Rádio Transmissora. But Ary Barroso did not hesitate to abandon his
friend, even on the first day of broadcast—he had signed a much more
rewarding contract with Rádio Cruzeiro do Sul, where he was to have
various duties from the start.

Replacing Paulo Roberto
and Edmundo Maia, he became presenter of the program Calouros em Desfile
(Freshmen on Parade), broadcast with an studio audience, which would soon
become one of the most popular programs in Brazil.

The Personality

No one could better define
the personality of Ary Barroso than his daughter Mariúza: "Restless,
talkative, impetuous, bohemian, passionate, ironic, funny, caustic, amorous,
a charismatic and controversial personality which left an impression".

He loved to have people
talking about him, whether saying bad things or good, and thought that those
rare days in which he was not mentioned in the press or other media were "sad

In his polemics he used
all his biting humor to liquidate his "adversary"—usually faked,
fabricated, and conniving. This was the case of his "enemy" Antônio
Maria—renowned writer, radio broadcaster, and composer. They said horrible
things about each other, kept up polemics in the newspapers, but in reality
they were great friends. Just once did they spend some time without talking
to each other.

In 1949, Ary invited him
to broadcast soccer games together—they were generally in agreement.
But on days when Vasco played Flamengo, Antônio Maria would only speak
while Vasco had the ball, and Ary when Flamengo had the ball, to the enjoyment
of the listeners.

On the legendary program
Calouros em Desfile, on radio until 1951, and thereafter on television,
many beginners that faced his gong became famous, such as Lúcio Alves,
Ângela Maria, and Elza Soares. Elza Soares tells how she appeared before
the composer, extremely thin, tousled, badly dressed, and was asked: "But
what planet do you come from?" "From the planet Hunger, Mr. Ary,"
Elza replied, stamping her passport on the way to fame.

Aquarela do Brasil

In November 1997, a jury
of 13 specialists gathered by the Brazilian Academy of Letters gave "Aquarela
do Brasil" a definitive trophy, recognizing it as the Best Brazilian
Song of the Century. There was an inquiry about the unanimity of the accolade:
was the composition the result of a sudden and precious inspiration, as the
composer always said, or did it represent, instead, an officious commission
by the organs of the Estado Novo, interested in creating a brilliant image
for a Brazil subjugated by the dictatorship?

Ary never hid from anyone
that he was a devoted follower of Getúlio Vargas, since 1930. Soon
after the revolution that brought Vargas to power, he participated, with other
composers, in the revue O Barbado (The man with the beard)—yes,
an entirely commissioned work—which sought to ridicule, in rather gross
terms, the figure of Washington Luís.

The advent of the Estado
Novo did not modify his attitude in relation to Getúlio, an attitude,
moreover, that was common to the whole artistic class of the period—in
which each one worked harder than the next to adulate the dictator and take
advantage of the forced jingoism of the DIP, the well-known Department of
Press and Propaganda, which censored and "oriented" all of the national
cultural production.

On various occasions,
however, Ary had problems in maintaining the integrity of his compositions.
Already by 1932 the censors had suppressed an entire scene on the Constitutionalist
Revolution of São Paulo from his spectacle Vai com Fé
(Go with Faith). In 1939 he had to fight for the lyrics of "Aquarela
do Brasil." It didn’t seem right to the censors for the country to be
defined as the "land of the samba and the tambourine". But the composer
won out.

according to what Ary used to say, was born on a rainy night in 1939, when
he was having a relaxed conversation with his wife and his brother-in-law
Antônio, in his house in Leme. Suddenly, he felt an impulse—moving
to the piano, he composed, all at once, lyrics and music. It was a night blessed
by the muses, since a little later, after drinking a whole bottle of wine,
Ary returned to the piano to compose one of his classic sambas, "Três
Lágrimas" (Three Tears).

Recorded in August of
1939 by Francisco Alves, with an arrangement by Radamés Gnatalli, "Aquarela"
began a brilliant career. Two years later, Walt Disney, traveling to Brazil
on a mission for the Good Neighbor Policy of President Franklin Roosevelt,
would discover the song, which renamed "Brazil," would be launched
internationally in the film Saludos Amigos with the character of the
parrot Zé Carioca.

In the following years,
Ary would spend long stretches in the United States, without his family, and
always dying of saudades for Rio, but fascinated by the full recognition
of his talent and rewarded with fabulous contracts—working in films and
shows, supported by the immense popularity of Carmen Miranda, his great friend
and performer, with whom it was even bandied about that he would marry.

During his first trip,
in 1944, he described in a letter to his spouse his welcome in Hollywood:
"I can guarantee that my name is recognized here. It is a big hit, as
they say. When I am introduced as the author of Brazil, I am showered
with hugs, and requests for autographs. I still haven’t finished my contract
with Republic Pictures and I have already visited various movie studios. They
are already talking about a contract with Fox, with Metro, and especially
with Disney. I believe that I have entered the gate of immortality and that
we can make our fortune here. It is a matter of taking advantage of this opportunity."

Said, but not done. In
spite of tempting offers and of his great prestige—in 1944 he received
the Prize of Merit from the Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences in
Hollywood for the samba Rio de Janeiro, which he had composed for the
film Brazil—he did not manage to establish residence in the United
States. Not even when, to widespread amazement, Walt Disney offered him the
musical direction of his company. Ary refused, explaining in English to the
stunned producer: "Because don’t have Flamengo here."

At any rate, his fortune
was made. Another song, "Na Baixa do Sapateiro," already renamed
"Bahia" in 1945, made it into a list made in the United States of
songs with more than two million performances, just in that country. Ary continued
up to his last years, as his health allowed, to be intensely active, balancing
various programs and obligations simultaneously and leaving a memory of his
humor wherever he went.

In 1955, on being honored,
together with Heitor Villa-Lobos, with the Order of Merit by the Café
Filho administration, he punctuated the gesture of the nation’s leader as
he was pinning the medal to his lapel: "Samba has come up in the world,
Mr. President".

This attitude of philosophical
superiority in the face of life—which is humor—did not forsake him
even in his last months. Confined to the Casa de Saúde São José
in September 1963, he telephoned his friend and collaborator, David Nasser:

"I am saying goodbye.
I am going to die."

"How do you know,

"They are playing
my songs on the radio."

But when his friend Father
Góis was called to give extreme unction, he thought that the composer
must not have been in such bad shape, since he was asking the result of the
game between Flamengo and Bangu. His team had lost, 2 to 1, the priest informed

"Then it’s not me
who needs extreme unction, Father Góis, but Flamengo!" the patient

By a strange twist of
fate, Ary Evangelista Barroso’s star went out at the exact moment of his apotheosis
as composer: at 9:50 pm on Feb. 9, 1964, on Sunday of Carnaval, when the Império
Serrano Samba School was preparing to enter Avenida Presidente Vargas to parade
with the theme "Aquarela do Brasil."

Cecília Prada is a well-known Brazilian journalist,
fiction-writer and playwright. Her book O Caos na Sala
de Jantar, (Chaos in the Dining-room), published in 1978,
has been awarded three literary prizes. She is considered
a stylist and several of her short stories have been published
also in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, in anthologies.
Her career as a playwright began in the 60’s, in New York
City, where she worked with Joe Chaikin’s The Open Theater.
In 1964, her play Central Park Bench Number 33, Flight 207
was staged at the Judson Poets’ Theater in New York. She is
also a former diplomat. She is divorced, has two married sons
and three grandchildren and lives now in São Paulo,
Brazil. You can email her at

Translated from
the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by
the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates
from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and
is also active as a musician. He is the librarian for music,
modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments
welcome at

This article appeared
originally in Portuguese, in the magazine Problemas Brasileiros—

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