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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