Born on May 23, 1908 (some experts say it was in 1902), in São Cristóvão, Rio de
Janeiro, Sílvio Antônio Narciso de Figueiredo Caldas could never make good on his
repeated promises of abandoning music. Afflicted with heart problems he died on February
2. He was living in Atibaia, in the interior of São Paulo, with his wife Miriam, 50, son
Roberto, 21, daughter Camila, 20, and grandson Vinícius, 2.
For the last 30 years Sílvio Caldas’ constant farewell concerts became a running gag
in the Brazilian entertainment world. His weepy goodbye shows were so many that even his
most faithful fans lost track of them. Friends, still lulled by his soothing music, still
don’t believe that he has left for good. Said Nelson Rodrigues, another idol of his
generation: "The people want him to always come back. And that 200 years from now he
will come again for another farewell show."
At age six, Caldas was already singing at Casa dos Bigodinhos (House of the Little
Moustaches), a club in Minas Gerais state. Soon after he joined the Família Ideal, a
Carnaval band. From this time came the nickname Rouxinol (Nightingale). He would get
several other epithets during his seven-decade career, including : O Caboclinho Querido
(The Dear Little Peasant), A Voz Morena que a Cidade Adora (The Brunet Voice that the City
Adores), and O Seresteiro das Multidões (The Crowds’ Serenader).
The singer was not ashamed of calling himself illiterate. Caldas abandoned school very
early. At age 9 he was already an apprentice car mechanic, a métier in which he became an
expert, moving in 1924 to São Paulo where he made a living fixing cars. He had plenty of
odd jobs that would make him garimpeiro (gold prospector), milkman, truck driver,
cook, and restaurant owner.
In 1927 when he went for a test as a singer for Radio Mayrink Veiga, in Rio de Janeiro,
he met tango crooner Antonio Gomez, better known as Milonguita, a singer who would greatly
influence Caldas’s singing technique. According to music researcher Mário Leônidas
Casanova, Caldas’s first recording"Alô, Meu Bem" (Hello, My Darling) by
Carlos de Almeida and "Amoroso" (Filled With Love) by the singer in partnership
with Quincas Freire, happened on February 19, 1930. Both tunes were sambas.
He would record 500 others songs. "I was born singing," he used to say.
Accustomed to being adulated the singer became very despondent when the country turned to
other idols all but forgetting him. He moved in 1965 to his Atibaia ranch, which he called
The singer appeared also in movies like Humberto Mauro’s Favela dos Meus Amores”
(My Beloved Favela) from 1935, Luís de Barros’s Carioca Maravilhosa (Marvelous Rio
Girl) from 1936, and José Carlos Burle’s Luz dos Meus Olhos (Light of My Eyes)
from 1947. Endowed with a deep, husky voice, Caldas became famous for the romantic ballads
he sang. He also recorded duets with Carmen Miranda and Elizeth Cardoso.
All the Hits
For almost 20 years, starting at the beginning of the ’30s till the end of the ’40s,
Caldas kept his songs on the hit parades. In 1935 he had "Minha Palhoça" (My
Thatched Hut) by J. Cascata and "O Telefone do Amor" (The Love Telephone) by
Benedito Lacerda and Jorge Faraj. In 1936, there were "Um Caboclo Abandonado"
(An Abandoned Peasant), "Madrugada" (Dawn) both by Benedito Lacerda and
Herivelto Martins and "O Nome Dela Não Digo" (Her Name I Won’t Say) by Sílvio
Caldas and Orestes Barbosa.
In 1937 he brought "Saudade Dela" (Missing Her) by Ataulfo Alves,
"Arranha-céu" (Skyscraper) and "Chão de Estrelas" (Floor of Stars),
both by Sílvio Caldas and Orestes Barbosa. 1938 was the year of "Professora"
(Schoolmistress) by Benedito Lacerda and Jorge Faraj, "Sorria da Minha Dor"
(Smile at My Pain) by Paulo Medeiros, and "Suburbana" (Suburban Lady) by Sílvio
Caldas and Orestes Barbosa.
In 1939 he had, "Da Cor do Pecado" (Color of Sin) by Bororó, "Deusa da
Minha Rua" (My Street’s Goddess) by Newton Teixeira and Jorge Faraj and in 1940,
"Mulher" (Woman) by Custódio Mesquita and Sadi Cabral and "Preto
Velho" (Black Old Man) by Custódio Mesquita and Jorge Faraj.
Hits from 1941 were "Caixinha de Música" (Little Music Box) by Custódio
Mesquita, "O Pião" (The Top) by Custódio Mesquita and Sadi Cabral). In 1942 we
had "Duas Janelas" (Two Windows) by Wilson Batista and Jorge Faraj), in 1943,
"Meus 20 Anos" (My 20 Years) by Wilson Batista and Sílvio Caldas,
"Promessa" (Promise) by Custódio Mesquita and Evaldo Rui, "Modinha" (Modinha
Tune) by Jaime Ovale and Manuel Bandeira.
In 1944 Caldas brought "Como os Rios Correm para o Mar" (How Rivers Run to
the Sea) by Custódio Mesquita and Evaldo Rui and "Valsa do Meu Subúrbio" (My
Suburb’s Waltz) by Custódio Mesquita and Evaldo Rui.
A heavy drinker all his life, it seems fit that Caldas met his greatest partner,
Orestes Barbosa, in a bar. Caldas had an operatic voice. During the ’30s and ’40s he was
part of the quartet of the great crooners of the time, which also included the King of
Voice, Francisco Alves; the Singer of the Crowds, Orlando Silva; and Carlos Galhardo. As a
composer he was partner of Cartola, Wilson Batista, Billy Blanco and Ary Barroso.
What was the secret of his vitality? "I disobey all the rules recommended to those
who are 50 and older. I talk too much, I drink too much, I sleep too little, I work too
hard, and smoke like a desperate man," he once said.
Nothing was left from the fortune he amassed during his golden years. Caldas died poor.
He was getting a $700 monthly check as pension, but royalties from his songs had dwindled
so that in a recent month he got a ridiculous $5 check as his share. His only possession,
the modest ranch in Atibaia in which he lived, was on the brink of foreclosure. Caixa
Econômica Federal had threatened many times to auction the property in order to collect
on a $150,000 debt.
It is not for his honesty that Brazil’s serenaders will be remembered. He is known to
have bought songs which then he appropriated as being his own. Even "Chão de
Estrelas" (Floor of Stars), his most memorable work, in partnership with Orestes
Barbosa wasn’t really his, according to some experts.
As a singer though his talent is undisputed. He recorded the best of Ary Barroso,
including "Faceira," "Inquietação", "Maria," "Morena
Boneca de Ouro", "Quando Eu Penso na Bahia" with Carmen Miranda, "Por
Causa Dessa Cabrocha", "Rancho Fundo," and "Tu."
For the last 18 years he hadn’t recorded anything and he used to complain that the
studios didn’t want him anymore. "All they want are songs that last two to three
years, but I am here for eternity," he said in a 1996 interview with Folha de São
Chão de Estrelas
In 1995 when he was nominated for a Grammy in World Music for his album Angelus,
Brazilian composer and singer, Milton Nascimento, was competing against the Gipsy Kings
among others. He lost. The flamenco loving French band was again the one to beat in the
latest version of the Oscar of the music industry. It was Milton’s turn this time.
The Rio born, but Minas Gerais raised singer-composer won with Nascimento, a CD
released in 1997. The other singers nominated in the category were Cesaria Evora from Cabo
Verde, Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji, and Ali Akbar Khan born in Bangladesh. Brazilian Banda
Mantiqueira was also running in the Latin jazz category. American trumpetist Roy Hargrove
was the winner though.
For Milton it was a very special victory coming at a moment in which he has been
recuperating from serious health problems. At the end of last year he was forced to cancel
several concerts in the U.S.. Due to his dramatic loss of weight the Brazilian press
rumored that the singer-composer had AIDS, which made Nascimento hurt and angry. His
doctor in the United States declared though that he was suffering from an acute case of
It was the fifth time Milton was nominated for a Grammy and the first one he snubbed
it, ignoring the New York ceremony and choosing instead to go partying with friends in the
Salvador (state of Bahia) Carnaval. With this victory Nascimento joined, among others,
João Gilberto, who with Stan Getz won in 1964 for The Girl from Ipanema as best
album. That same year the Grammy for best record went to Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto
also for "The Girl from Ipanema." In 1973, Eumir Deodato with his version of
Richard Strauss’s "Also Sprach Zaratustra" was considered best pop instrumental
interpreter. Roberto Carlos was chosen in 1988 as best Latin pop singer and Sérgio Mendes
was the winner of the world music best record in 1993 for Brasileiro. In 1996, Tom
Jobim won a posthumous prize for Antônio Brasileiro in the Latin jazz category.
Brazil has won a total of 12 Grammys so far. Laurindo de Almeida alonehe is a
São Paulo musician who moved to the U.S. in 1947has won five of the awards,
starting in 1960, when he got it twice for Conversations With the Guitar (best
instrumental classic music) and for The Spanish Guitars of Laurindo de Almeida (instrumental
solo). In 1961, with Discantus, he shared the prize of best contemporary jazz
composition with Igor Stravinsky. Three years later, Guitar from Ipanema would give
him a Grammy as the best jazz performer.