Nunes, Clara (1943–1983)

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Nunes, Clara (1943–1983)

The Brazilian singer Clara Nunes was one of the foremost samba interpreters of her time. She was born in Paraopea in the state of Minas Gerais on August 12, 1943. Orphaned at a young age, she moved to Belo Horizonte at age 16, where she found employment in a factory and sang in local church choirs. Her first professional break came in 1960 when she won the Minas Gerais section of the Voz de Ouro ABC (ABC Golden Voice) talent competition and went on to place third in the national finals in São Paulo. She moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1965 and signed with Odeon Records, which released her debut album A Voz Adorável de Clara Nunes, a mix of boleros and romantic sambas. Her first commercial hit came in 1968 with Ataulfo Alves' song "Você passa e Eu Acho Graça," and in 1974 her album Alvorecer sold 500,000 copies, a previously unheard of number for a female vocalist in Brazil. Nunes followed this achievement with a number of commercially and critically successful albums including Claridade (1975), Canto de Três Raças (1976), Guerreira (1978), and Brasil Mestiço (1980), and toured throughout Europe and Japan.

Nunes's commercial success is often credited with paving the way for other female samba singers such as Beth Carvalho and Alcione. Her repertoire mixed compositions from the older generation of composers such as Ataulfo Alves, Dorival Caymmi, and Nelson Cavaquinho with songs by younger artists such as Paulinho Viola, Paulo César Pinheiro (whom she married in 1975), and Chico Buarque. She also had a long association with the Portela samba school and recorded several of its carnival theme songs, including "Ilu Ayê" and "Portela na Avenida." A follower of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, Nunes displayed her religious devotion through the white costumes and extensive jewelry she often wore onstage and in songs such as "A Deusa dos Orixás," and "Ijexá (Filhos de Gandhi)." She died in 1983 in Rio de Janeiro from complications following surgery for varicose veins. In addition to those listed above, her numerous hits include "Juizo Final," "Menino de Deus," "Coração Leviano," and "Morena de Angola."

See alsoBuarque, Chico; Candomblé; Caymmi, Dorival; Music: Popular Music and Dance; Samba; Samba Schools; Viola, Paulinho.


Autran, Margarida. "Samba, artigo de consumo nacional." In Anos 70: Ainda sob a tempestade, ed. Adauto Novaes. Rio de Janeiro: Aeroplano, Editora Senac Rio, 2005.

Marcondes, Marcos Antônio, ed. Enciclopédia da Música Brasileira: Popular, Erudita e Folclórica, 2nd edition. São Paulo: Art Editora, Publifolha, 1998.

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. New York: Billboard Books, 1991.

                                 Andrew Connell