de Moraes, Vinícius: 1913-1980: Songwriter, Playwright, Poet, Diplomat

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Vinícius de Moraes: 1913-1980: Songwriter, playwright, poet, diplomat

The name of Vinícius de Moraes is not well known in English-speaking countries, but he helped to create two of the enduring icons of twentieth century culture: the film Black Orpheus and the song "Girl from Ipanema" were both taken from plays and songs he wrote. Moraes was a Brazilian writer whose work over his long career encompassed both the elite realm of poetry and the democracy of popular song. In the latter sphere he was the favored lyricist of the pioneering Brazilian composer and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim; together the two were important shapers of the sophisticated and internationally popular Brazilian music known as bossa nova.

A Renaissance man whose career also included substantial activity as a film critic and as a member of Brazil's diplomatic corps, Moraes made only a few excursions into playwriting and screenwriting. His 1954 play, Orfeu da Conceição, and its subsequent film adaptation, known in English as Black Orpheus, however, gained international renown. Those works, landmark achievements in cross-cultural fusion, combined the culture of Rio de Janeiro's hillside favelas and its African-descended inhabitants in a vivid synthesis with a story drawn from the ancient Greek mythology of Europe.

Named After Character in Novel

Moraes was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 19, 1913; his father was a scholar and poet who named him after a character in a popular novel, Quo Vadis?, which appeared the year he was born and was set in the age of Jesus Christ's birth. His education was a highly literary one, and he was already a published poet at age 19. His first book of poetry, O caminho para a distância (The Road into the Distance ), appeared in 1933. Moraes was finishing a law degree in Rio at the time, although he was never active as a lawyer. Instead, he was preparing for a career path well trodden by Brazil's educated elites: he would serve for much of his life as a government official and diplomat.

Interested in contemporary trends in European poetry and fluent in several languages, Moraes studied for a year at Oxford University in England; he wrote some poetry in English, and while he was there he was married in absentia to his first wife, Beatrîz. The title of his 1935 volume, Forma e Exegese (Forms and Exegeses ), gives the flavor of the European methods that permeated his youthful poetry. Another side of his creative personality also manifested itself. As a result of a teenage friendship with popular Brazilian vocalists Paulo and Haroldo Tapajós, Moraes began to write popular song lyrics. At the same time as he was finishing law school and putting the final touches on his first poetry publications in 1932 and 1933, Moraes notched about a dozen songwriting credits, some of them hits.

Moraes worked in the late 1930s for the Brazilian government's film censorship office and in the early 1940s was active as a film critic, cultivating a friendship with U.S. film director Orson Welles when the latter visited Brazil. Moraes joined Brazil's diplomatic corps in 1943. A tour of Brazil with the radical American novelist Waldo Frank in 1945 opened his eyes to the lives ordinary Brazilians led. "I saw crime and sexual degradation and poverty for the first time," he told the Saturday Review. "Within thirty days I was no longer a boy, no longer a citizen of the upper middle class, prepared by their priesthood to be a good rightist."

At a Glance . . .

Born October 19, 1913, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; died July 10, 1980, in Rio de Janeiro; married twice. Education: Received law degree in Rio de Janeiro, 1933; studied English literature, Oxford University, England, 1938.

Career: Published poetry and wrote popular songs, 1930s and 1940s; worked for Brazil government film censorship office, late 1930s; wrote film criticism, early 1940s; joined Brazilian diplomatic corps, 1943-69; wrote play Orfeu da Conceição, basis for film Black Orpheus, 1954; numerous popular compositions in samba and bossa nova styles, late 1950s and 1960s; wrote lyrics to song "The Girl from Ipanema," 1963.

Awards: Grammy award, Song of the Year, for "The Girl from Ipanema," 1964.

Served as Diplomat in Los Angeles

His earliest popular compositions had been in old-fashioned forms such as the foxtrot, but now he came under the spell of the Afro-Brazilian hybrid known as samba, frowned upon by Brazil's upper classes but rapidly gaining adherents with its collection of dance rhythms as infectious as any produced within the African diaspora. He had both his cinematic and his musical horizons widened when he was sent to the Brazilian consulate in Los Angeles as assistant vice consul in 1946. Moraes would later serve in diplomatic posts in Uruguay and in France, but he returned to Brazil for a time after his father's death in 1950. His earliest samba lyrics date from 1953.

At about that time, Moraes experienced a flash of inspiration that joined the European and the Afro-Brazilian halves of his cultural education. As he sat at home in Rio, he told the Saturday Review, "some-where in the distance the Batucada drums were beating their samba rhythms. I was reading a French anthology of classical myths. Suddenlyboing!the two ideas connected." By the following morning Moraes had completed the first part of the scenario that would become Orfeu da Conceição. The title, Moraes told Saturday Review, roughly meant "Orpheus Jones." The writing of the play intersected with the chaotic breakup of Moraes's arranged marriage, and at one point he lost the manuscript of the entire completed third act.

Finally produced in 1954 with music by the then-unknown Jobim, Orfeu da Conceição opened to mixed reviews but won a major Brazilian theatrical prize. Moraes had originally conceived of the Black Orpheus story as a film, and had sold the rights to a French production company. In 1956 the play was adapted for the screen by Moraes and French director Marcel Camus, with new music by Moraes and Jobim. The U.S. release, entitled Black Orpheus, won an Academy Award, and the film was honored with the top Palme d'or prize at France's Cannes Film Festival.

Black Orpheus, set in Rio during Carnival (known in the United States as Mardi Gras), adapted the mythological story of Orpheus, who tries to rescue his lover Eurydice from the realm of death through the power of song, to a contemporary Afro-Brazilian setting. In Moraes's story, Orpheus is a samba singer whose beloved Eurydice, a girl newly arrived in Rio from Brazil's northeast, meets her death in a streetcar accident. At several key junctures the Greek myth of Orpheus is overlaid with characteristically Afro-Brazilian images.

Bossa Nova Songwriting Career Flourished

The film version of Black Orpheus vividly captured the kaleidoscopic energy of the Brazilian Carnival celebration, but Moraes felt that the film's French makers treated Brazilian culture as an exotic experience rather than really exploring the issues raised in his play. Nevertheless, Black Orpheus marked the beginning of a new level in the careers of both Moraes and Jobim, who now began to experience wide success as a popular songwriting team. They often worked in the elegant, jazz-influenced bossa nova genre, pioneered by Jobim and vocalist-guitarist João Gilberto. In 1963 their fame reached international dimensions with the bossa nova song "The Girl from Ipanema," which featured Gilberto's wife, Astrud, on vocals. Ironically, the song gained little popularity in Brazil itself.

Moraes wrote the song after Jobim became infatuated with an attractive young woman whom he saw through the window of a bar where the two songwriting partners were relaxing, not far from Rio's famed Ipanema Beach. (The street where the bar is located was later named after Moraes.) "The Girl from Ipanema," fitted with a verse of English lyrics, perfectly evoked a tropical vacationland for U.S. listeners. The song won a Grammy award for Record of the Year in 1964, and touched off an international bossa nova craze that still echoed 20 years later in such recordings as Nigerian jazz singer Sade's "Smooth Operator." "The Girl from Ipanema" has been recorded well over 100 times and remains a jazz standard.

Bounced from the diplomatic corps after running afoul of Brazil's military dictatorship in 1969, Moraes emerged as a thorn in the regime's side in the 1970s. In concert appearances he satirized the regime's excesses, but his stature as an elder statesman of Brazilian music and poetry protected him from reprisals. He remained active as a lyricist and poet until the end of his life. Vinícius de Moraes died in Rio de Janeiro of a lung disease on July 10, 1980. Numerous releases of his music remain available, and in 1999 Orfeu da Conceição was filmed once again by Brazilian new-wave director Carlos Diegues.

Selected writings

O caminho para a distância (poetry), 1933.

Forma e exegese (poetry), 1935.

Novos poemas (poetry), 1938.

Cinco elegias (poetry), 1938, pub. 1943.

Orfeu da Conceição (play), 1956.

The Girl from Ipanema (song text), 1962.

Numerous popular song lyrics in samba and bossa nova styles.



Bradbury, Malcolm, ed., Penguin Companion to American Literature, McGraw-Hill, 1971.

Foster, David William, and Virginia Ramos Foster, Modern Latin American Literature, Ungar, 1975.

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha, The Brazilian Sound, Billboard Books, 1991.

Stern, Irwin, Dictionary of Brazilian Literature, Greenwood Press, 1988.


New York Times, July 11, 1980, p. A15.

Saturday Review, February 9, 1974, p. 30.


All Music Guide,

James M. Manheim

Diplomatic Missions

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DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS. Since the 1770s, U.S. diplomatic missions to foreign countries have grown in number, size, and complexity. Important U.S. diplomatic traditions evolved during the American Revolution. The founders experimented with a variety of foreign policy institutions, including the Committee of Correspondence (established in 1775 and later known as the Committee of Secret Correspondence), the Committee for Foreign Affairs (1777), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (1781). Under these arrangements, Congress assigned diplomats, as individuals and as commissioners, to negotiate with foreign governments. John Jay, secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1784 to 1790, enacted procedures for appointing and recalling diplomats and founded a policymaking process. Once the Constitution was ratified, Congress established the Department of State, under presidential control, to conduct foreign affairs.

U.S. diplomatic missions exhibited several weaknesses through the early nineteenth century. Little coordination occurred between diplomats, who developed political relations with other governments, and consuls, who served the legal and commercial needs of U.S. citizens abroad. Congress perpetually underfunded both types of missions. Most presidents appointed ministers (the highest ranking diplomats) on the basis of nepotism or cronyism rather than merit. Until 1855, most U.S. consuls were foreigners employed by the U.S. government in their native lands. In lieu of receiving salaries, they were authorized to retain the fees they collected for the services they rendered to U.S. citizens.

The number of U.S. diplomatic missions grew modestly before the Civil War. There were six (all in Europe) in 1789 and fifteen (including seven in newly independent countries of Latin America) in 1830. By 1861, thirty-four missions had been established, mostly in Europe and Latin America but also in Hawaii, Japan, China, Turkey, and Egypt. The number of consulates increased from 52 in 1800 to 140 by 1830.

From the 1850s through World War II, diplomatic missions were extensively reformed. In 1855, Congress required that consuls must be American citizens who would earn regular salaries and deposit collected fees in the U.S. Treasury. In 1893, Congress authorized the appointment of envoys at the rank of ambassador in order to bolster the prestige of U.S. missions. President Grover Cleveland established examinations as the means of selecting consular officials, and President Theodore Roosevelt extended basic civil service principles to the consular corps.

The Rogers Act of 1924 overhauled U.S. diplomatic missions. The law combined the diplomatic and consular corps into a single Foreign Service, required entry by competitive examination, established a hierarchy of ranks with promotion based on merit, mandated periodic rotations of personnel from overseas posts to Washington, D.C., and insulated career diplomats from the political whims of presidents. It also increased salaries and benefits so that service became a career option for non-elites. As a result, morale and professionalism soared. By the 1930s, diplomatic missions typically included a chief of mission presiding over a staff organized in political, economic, and consular sections. Missions identified their principal duties as representing the president, negotiating disputes, observing the position of the host government, and recommending policy to Washington.

Diplomatic missions grew in size and reach as the United States broadened its international responsibilities in the twentieth century. The United States had missions in forty-eight countries by 1913 and sixty countries by 1940. The number of consulates increased from 282 in 1860 to 304 in 1910 (although this number declined after the Rogers Act combined the consular and diplomatic corps). In 1893, the United States appointed its first ambassador (to London). Eleven ambassadors served by 1911 and forty-one by 1945. The increasing number of ambassadors reflected America's growing power and its desire to improve relations with certain states.

The growth in U.S. diplomatic missions accelerated after World War II. Between 1945 and 1985, the United States established 125 new missions, most of them embassies. The government even recognized Vatican City (population 1,000) and three other countries with fewer than 50,000 citizens. To meet the growing demand for Foreign Service officers, the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration approved "lateral entry," by which talented individuals joined the Foreign Service at ranks above entry level. The Foreign Service tripled in size in between 1955 and 1970, and several embassies grew to more than 1,000 staff members. In 1999, the government had missions to 189 countries and to more than a dozen international organizations.

As they increased in size and number, U.S. foreign missions also grew more complex. Most embassies were headed by ambassadors, who were advised by a counselor and assisted by first, second, and (in some cases) third secretaries who managed Foreign Service officers assigned to political, economic, administrative, and consular affairs. Embassies were also staffed by officers of State Department agencies such as the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Agency for International Development, and United States Information Agency. Foreign Service officers were tasked with such challenges as narcotics control, counter-terrorism, and environmental protection. In many countries, networks of consulates were maintained to deal with commercial and legal issues affecting American citizens.

Embassy staffs also included officers serving agencies other than the State Department. Congress first authorized army and navy attachés in the 1880s, and in following decades the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Interior, and Labor dispatched attachés to overseas missions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency also assigned personnel, usually undercover, to embassies around the world.

Despite the burgeoning size and reach of missions, the influence of the State Department over foreign policy declined in the late twentieth century. Military officers exerted a strong voice in foreign policymaking during World War II and the Cold War, as the line between policy and strategy blurred and as the Pentagon grew in prestige. After 1947, the National Security Council emerged as a central feature in the foreign policy establishment. Cold War diplomacy was conducted by presidents at summit meetings, by secretaries of state on extensive personal ventures abroad, and through multilateral conferences. As the twentieth century closed, the State Department and the Foreign Service struggled to identify their exact positions in the complex process of making U.S. foreign policy.


Etzold, Thomas H. The Conduct of American Foreign Relations: The Other Side of Diplomacy. New York: Franklin Watts, 1977.

Plischke, Elmer. U.S. Department of State: A Reference History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Peter L.Hahn

See alsoAmbassadors ; Embassies ; Executive Agent ; Foreign Service ; State, Department of .