Having been born and raised in the middle-class neighborhoods on the south side of Rio de Janeiro, it would seem unlikely that Beth Carvalho would grow up to become one of Brazil's most famous and well-loved samba performers. But for more than 30 years, Carvalho has been that person. She fell in love at an early age with the spirit, passion, and style represented by the traditional samba performers and dedicated her career to making it more accessible. Her dedication and talent have made her one of Brazil's most valued and acclaimed musical celebrities. Not only has she introduced millions of people to the sound of samba, but she has just as generously worked for the social justice in a country with a long history of inequality.
Born Elizabeth Santos Leal de Carvalho on May 5, 1946, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carvalho's father was a lawyer with liberal political ideals that put him under a great deal of stress during the years of Brazilian dictatorship. He and his wife appreciated music of many different styles and introduced Carvalho to classical music as well as the more homegrown Brazilian music performed at serestas (backyard serenades) and the samba school rehearsals.
Around age seven, Carvalho started attending school at the Brazilian Academy of Music. There she learned how to play guitar and became quite good at it. She briefly attended Rio University to study psychology, but the lure of performing was too much and she started a career in music. At that time, Brazil was in the midst of a bossa nova craze. Carvalho sang with a bossa nova group called Conjunto 3-D. Her first recorded single was "Por Quem Morrer De Amor," a famous bossa nova tune.
Committed to Samba
In 1968, she competed in the III Festival Internacional da Cancao (International Song Festival). She placed third with her version of the song "Andanca." She recorded her first album, Andanca, the following year and launched her career as one of Brazil's most successful singers. Even though bossa nova was extremely popular at the time, she found that she was drawn to samba music, and by 1971 she had committed herself to that style. That year found her recording the song "Rio Grande Do Sul Festo Do Preto Forro," a samba-enredo, which was performed by the samba school Unidos de Sao Carlos during the annual carnival festivities.
That same year her song "So Quero Ver" became a huge hit. When she saw that it was being sung and performed throughout the poor areas of the city in "rodas de samba," informal groups singing songs in a form of competition, she decided that she would begin recording her music in a more casual manner. In this way, she felt she would be paying homage to the communities that birthed and formed this style of music. She explained to the Christian Science Monitor, "Everybody knows the word 'samba.' But I think that samba itself, its essence, is not known, even in Brazil. Samba isn't just a rhythm; it's a … resistance." She explained further that samba's origins stem from a group of people who are self-trained and usually very poor.
In 1974 she released the album Pra Seu Governo, which contained the hit song "1800 Colinas." The song was not only popular in Brazil but also in France where she performed in support of the album. In 1977, she had two hit songs, "Saco do Feijao" and "Olho Por Olho." Their popularity led to more than 400,000 sales of her album Nos Botequins Da Vida. The following year she had another hit song with "Vou Festejar," from her album De Pe No Chao. Then in 1979, she released what would become her biggest hit ever, "Coisinha Do Pai," from the album Beth Carvalho No Pagode. Other hit songs from that album included "Pedi Ao Ceu" and "Tem Nada Nao," but nothing topped "Coisinha Do Pai." In 1997, the song would be included along with a selection of music sent on the Mars Pathfinder mission.
In 1987, she released the album Beth Carvalho Ao Vivo No Festival de Montreaux, which was recorded at her performance at the Montreaux Festival in Switzerland. Her other live albums include Ao Vivo No Olympia (1991) and Pagode de Mesa Ao Vivo (1999).
Discovering the Next Generation
With her career as the godmother of samba firmly established, the late 1970s saw Carvalho working to bring outstanding samba artists to public attention. She explained her passion for finding new talent to John Wright of the Las Vegas Review, "I have the attributes of a discoverer…. I discover and rescue. That's my objective…. The composers and musicians I've discovered are the new generation of samba." The list of composers and artists that she has discovered include singer Luiz Carlos da Vila, singer and composer Jorge Aragao (who composed her 1978 hit song "Vou Festejar"), and composer and musician Arlindo Cruz. Carvalho has also distinguished herself as a composer with the song "Cancao de Esperar Nenem," from her 1980 album Sentimento Brasileiro.
Throughout the years Carvalho has been intimately involved in the celebrations and performances surrounding Rio de Janeiro's world famous carnival events. In 1971, her song for the samba school Unidos de Sao Carlos won the prestigious award for best vocalist. Soon afterward she joined the Mangueira Samba School and has remained a member for more than thirty years. In 1984, to honor her contributions to samba and carnival, the samba school Unidos do Cabucu chose as their song to perform during competition "Beth Carvalho, a Enamorada Do Samba."
In Brazil she is known as the "Godmother of Samba" and the "Queen of Carnival," namesakes that she has earned from her years of dedication to the art forms born of Brazil's unique cultural mix. She has used her influence as one of Brazil's most prized performers to bring injustice to light and support causes that serve the underdog. Her energetic presence shines and entertains as she continues to tour and perform. In 2005 she headlined for the 12th Annual Brazilian Summer Festival in Los Angeles, California. Don Heckman who reviewed the show for the Los Angeles Times described her performance, "Carvalho has been a star of Brazilian music for 40 years, but she performed with the dynamic energy of a new arrival."
Andanca, Odeon, 1969.
Canto Por Um Novo Dia, Tapecar, 1973.
Pra Seu Governo, Tapecar, 1974.
Pandeiro e Viola, Tapecar, 1975.
Mundo Melhor, RCA, 1976.
Nos Botequins da Vida, RCA, 1977.
De Pe No Chao, RCA, 1978.
Beth Carvalho No Pogode, RCA, 1979.
Sentimento Brasileiro, RCA, 1980.
Na Fonte, RCA, 1981.
Traco de Uniao, RCA, 1982.
Suor No Rosto, RCA, 1983.
Coracao Feliz, RCA, 1984.
Das Bencaos Que Virao Com os Novos Amanhas, RCA, 1985.
Beth, RCA, 1986.
Beth Carvalho Ao Vivo (Montreaux), RCA, 1987.
Almo do Brasil, Polygram, 1988.
Saudades da Guanabara, Polygram, 1989.
Interprete, Polygram, 1991.
Ao Vivo no Olympia, Som Livre, 1991.
Perolas: 25 Anos de Samba, Som Livre, 1992.
Beth Carvalho Canto o Samba de Sao Paulo, Velas, 1993.
Brasileira da Gema, Polygram, 1996.
Perolas do Pagode, Globo/Polydor, 1998.
Pagode de Mesa Ao Vivo, Universal Music, 1999.
Pagode de Mesa Ao Vivo 2, Universal Music, 2000.
Nome Sagrado: Beth Carvalho Canta Nelson Cavaquinho, Jam, 2001.
Beth Carvalho Canta Cartola, BMG, 2003.
Beth Carvalho A Madrinha do Samba: Ao Vivo, Indie, 2004.
For the Record …
Born on May 5, 1946, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Education: Attended Brazilian Academy of Music; attended Rio University.
Won TV talent competition, 1965; finished third place, III Festival Internacional da Cancao, 1968; won her first Carnival competition, 1971; released Pra Seu Governo, 1974; released Nos Botequins Da Vida, 1977; released De Pe No Chao, 1978; released Beth Carvalho No Pagode, 1979; released live album Pagode de Mesa, 1999; headlined 12th annual Brazilian Summer Festival, Los Angeles, CA, 2005.
Awards: Premio Sharp Award (defunct music award equivalent to Brazilian Grammy), six years; TIM (current equivalent to Brazilian Grammy), for Beth Carvalho Canta Nelson Cavaquinho, 2003; Latin Grammy Award, Best Samba Album for Beth Carvalho A Madrinha do Samba: Ao Vivo, 2006.
Addresses: Management—Afonso Carvalho, phone: 55-21-7817-7102. Website—Beth Carvalho Official Website, http://www.bethcarvalho.com.br/.
Christian Science Monitor, October 25, 1990, p. 10.
Las Vegas Review, March 19, 1993, p. 15d.
Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2005, p. E.2.
"Beth Carvalho," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (October 29, 2006).
"Brazil's Emissary of Samba," Brazzil Magazine, http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/9295/79/ (November 5, 2006).
"Mrs. Samba," Brazzil, http://www.brazzil.com/mussep95.htm (November 6, 2006).