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April 16, 2017

Quem era Carmen Miranda? Who was Carmen Miranda?

Does the name Carmen Miranda sound familiar? What about “the lady in the tutti-frutti hat?” If not, do not feel ashamed, for many have forgotten the excellent Brazilian performer. No Brazilian artist, however, has achieved the international recognition that Carmen Miranda has, especially in Latin America and the States. She was one of the highest-paid women in Hollywood during the 1940’s.1 Yet she is today something of an unknown figure. Why is that?

That Night In Rio, 1941 | Courtesy of Sinuous Magazine

Well, it dates back to the day she was born. Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha in a village in Portugal on February 9, 1909. She migrated to Brazil with her family in 1910, before turning two years old.2 Though she remained a Portuguese citizen, she was at home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She began performing at a very early age, winning over her family and friends with her talent, and soon she had become a samba sensation. She was cutting records and was a star nearly a whole decade before coming to the United States. One night in 1939, while performing at the famous Cassino da Urca (in a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro), New York producer Lee Shubert signed her for his show The Streets of Paris on Broadway, and away she went to take the world by surprise.3 While on Broadway, she enchanted everyone with her vibrant singing, dancing, and “Brazilian bombshell” beauty.

At 38 years old she married; however, given the huge persona she was, it is strange that there is not much known about her personal life. The extent of it is that she was raised Catholic, and this may be the reason she married at a mature age. It was rumored that she and her husband, David Sebastian, had a troubled marriage.

It was 1940 when she returned from Broadway to her homeland Brazil, but she was devastated by the way she was received. At the same Casino where Shubert had snatched her from less than a year earlier, Miranda performed to a crowd in awkward silence; only when she began to sing in English did the crowd make some noise, booing. She stopped the show and was so upset that she burst into tears. This incident sent her fleeing from the country, and for about fifteen years she did not return.4

Meanwhile, Miranda spent her time on Broadway and in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and London starring in movies, performing in casinos and clubs, expanding her fame and reputation. She was the tropical beauty from Brazil and there was no one to change her mind about it. Yes, she was a European woman with pale skin and green eyes, but these features are what made her unique, and people found it interesting that a woman like her sang black music. Her unique style gave her the recognition she has acquired as an iconic Latin American. Carmen Miranda was well-known for her outrageously colorful costumes, which called for high platform heels, lots of jewelry, flamboyant dresses, and most famously the turbans with fake fruit stacked so high that it added height to her short stature of 5’0’’. 5 “In Brazil in Bahia, the girls carry the basket with the fruits on her head, and they have big bracelets and big necklaces and they sell fruits in the streets and I take it [my style] from the girls,” Miranda explained as the source of her image.6

A Scene From Slick Hare, 1947 | Courtesy of Looney Tunes Wikia

For years people have attacked Carmen Miranda on racial grounds. Critics say she had returned to Brazil americanizada. In response, she wrote a song in their mother tongue—the only country in Latin America to speak Portuguese—whose title translates to “They Say I Came Back Americanized.”7 It was also said that she was a sellout and was not truly a native, having been born in Portugal. Some say she was simply portraying the “Brazilian Bombshell” image and embodied the typical stereotype the U.S. public wanted to see in Brazilians, and Latin Americans more generally, where women are highly sexualized. Others argued that her style had created a distorted view of the country, as being sexually exposed, extravagantly colorful, and fruity. They argued that the turbans she wore were not even Brazilian customs and were only used to make fun of her.8 She was even mocked on a Bugs Bunny cartoon. To make matters worse, some said she had no right to sing samba, a music inherited in Brazilian black slums.

Carmen Miranda at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, 1941 | Courtesy of Getty Images

On the contrary, Carmen Miranda put Rio de Janeiro on the map of spectacular. She was the most successful person Brazil had produced. In a way, she served as an unofficial ambassador for her country, and it is heavily reflected in her movie roles.9 Everything that was Latin American was a hybrid presented in her performances, her style, her songs, friends and fans. She was everything, and nothing at once: Brazilian, Mexican, Argentinian, Cuban. Hollywood productions during this time period would touch on different cultures, but never fully embrace one, and this may have been what happened to Miranda. She became involved in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, which was a program determined to improve relations with the nations of Central and South America.10 She still is the only South American to be immortalized in concrete at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, “To Sid, VIVA! in the South American Way. Carmen Miranda. March 24th 1941,” neighboring none other than Frank Sinatra. 11 Rio’s Museum of Modern Art welcomed Carmen Miranda with a major retrospective; “Carmen Miranda Forever,” where clips from her movies were shown, and gowns and turbans were showcased.  She even had a museum in Rio dedicated to her, the Carmen Miranda Museum. Here, there was a wide variety of arrangements, gowns, costumes, shoes, and anything you can think of that she had performed in. The building itself was not lavish and fabulous as she was. Therefore it did not suit the gems hidden inside. Due to lack of maintenance and funds, it was closed down. It was agreed that Miranda deserved better.12 On the bright side, the museum is being relocated to Rio de Janeiro Museum of Image and Sound, expecting to open anytime soon. 13

Carmen Miranda dances in the film You’re the One For Me | June 1946 | Courtesy of Getty Images

It is a difficult task to relate to Carmen Miranda’s plight. She took many chances in leaving Brazil: that of being lost in translation, the crossing of geographical and cultural borders, sounding like herself in a different language, being in a sustained condition of exile. One person could not possibly represent an entire continent, especially one as diverse as that of Latin America with its many rich cultures. Today, it is not rare to be a Brazilian in the United States, in contrast to the way it once was. With that in mind, there is no Brazilian artist that has coped with these issues on the scale that Miranda had to in her prime. A director for a play on Carmen Miranda’s life said it better than anyone: “Carmen hasn’t been forgotten, but she’s been kind of ignored or neglected in recent years.”14 There are people today who have become interested in her, that have opened their minds to who she really was and why she has become an obsolete figure. They will learn that she was a charming, charismatic, comical, and extravagant person, a figure to inspire.15

  1. Larry Rohter, “Arts Abroad: The Real Carmen Miranda Under the Crown of Fruit,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  2. Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, 2008, s.v. “Miranda, Carmen (1909-1955),” by John Cohassey.
  3. Larry Rohter, “Arts Abroad; The Real Carmen Miranda Under the Crown of Fruit,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  4. Larry Rohter, “Arts Abroad; The Real Carmen Miranda Under the Crown of Fruit,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  5. Maria Rubia Macedo, “Images of Latin America In the Body and Costumes of Carmen Miranda’s Stylized Baiana: Social Memory and Identity,” Comunicação e Sociedade 24, (2013): 186-209.
  6. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Of Fruit Hats and ‘Happy Tropics,’ A Renaissance for Carmen Miranda,” NPR Parallels, April 22, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  7. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Of Fruit Hats and ‘Happy Tropics,’ A Renaissance for Carmen Miranda,” NPR Parallels, April 22, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  8. Larry Rohter, “Arts Abroad; The Real Carmen Miranda Under the Crown of Fruit,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  9. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Of Fruit Hats and ‘Happy Tropics,’ A Renaissance for Carmen Miranda,” NPR Parallels, April 22, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  10. “Good Neighbor Policy,” Office of the Historian, April 13, 2017,
  11. Ralph Morris, “Carmen Miranda, Grauman’s Chinese Theater,” Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, Accessed April 13, 2017,
  12. Mac Margnolis, “We Still Have Bananas,” Newsweek (Atlantic Edition) 147, no. 4 (January 23, 2006): 55.
  13. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, “Of Fruit Hats and ‘Happy Tropics,’ A Renaissance for Carmen Miranda,” NPR Parallels. April 22, 2015. April 13, 2017.
  14. Larry Rohter, “Arts Abroad; The Real Carmen Miranda Under the Crown of Fruit,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001. Accessed April 13, 2017,
  15. Film clip “Carmen Miranda: ‘Rebola a Bola’ (1941),” from Week-End in Havana, film directed by Walter Lang, 20th Century Fox, 1941. Music by Aloysio de Oliveira and Nestor Amaral, lyrics by Francisco Eugenio Brant Horta, sung in Portuguese by Carmen Miranda.

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Recent Comments

Briana Myers

I had heard of Carmen Miranda before, I did not know a lot about her. I especially did not know about how much she struggled throughout her life. She was loved by the United States but it is unfortunate that she was rejected by the place that she had seen as her home. It must have been really heart breaking to know that those who she was trying to represent turn her down and booed her. This was a very well written article and it definitely taught me something new.



5:49 am

Miranda Alamilla

In all honesty, I chose to read this article because my name is Miranda. Carmen Miranda sounded vaguely familiar and I felt like it couldn’t hurt to read it. Reading About Miranda’s struggles in her own hometown was heartbreaking. Brazilians did not accept because of the way she looked, claiming that she was “americanized” and that she portrayed a false image of Brazil. Reading this reminded me of the scene in the Selena Quintanilla movie when Abraham (Selena’s father) claims that being Mexican-American is hard because you have to show that you’re both Mexican enough and American enough. I feel like Carmen Miranda struggled with this same idea; but I was happy to read that she was able to handle it with such character and grace.



5:49 am

Iris Henderson

I am very pleased in the fact that Ms Medrano chose to write about Carmen Miranda! I have always been aware of Carmen Miranda as a classic Hollywood figure, and one of the Latino community. I did learn a lot about her from this article, like the fact that she was Portugues but raised in Brazil. I was not aware of the fact that she received so much backlash from her very own people. This is really quite sad, because essentially she is doing what most Hispanic artists (as well as artists in general) are doing today. Dare I say, she may even paved the way with her stylish costumes and bold attitude. The part of the article that mentioned her marriage and personal life being a mystery was very intriguing. This article left me wanting to do more research regarding the subject, but in a very good way! Great job Gabriela Medrano!



5:49 am

Anna Guaderrama

Genuinely speaking, I was only attracted to the article because the title sounded interesting but if it helps, the name Carmen Miranda did sound slightly familiar…however, I did not remember who this woman was by reading this article. It’s nice to know who were the stereotype of this type of person comes from though, I always wondered where the idea of a woman with a fruit hat came from when I was younger and would watch movies with my family. She seems familiar to an extent, but I think it’s a shame her name is not more known nowadays. Overall, I enjoyed the article and the video at the end really tied things up and was a great conclusion to the life of this wonderful entertainer.



5:49 am

Edgar Ramon

I remember this name from some Portuguese classes with Dr. Lokesngard, great topic. She was a beauty. The type of beauty found in Brazil, they have a particular look and features I’ve always noticed. She is definitely one of the more noticeable talents to come from Brazil that takes global notice I think. I can’t believe that she was booed of a stage in her Brazil, I guess that was the price paid for trying to get ahead in the world with musical talent at the time.



5:49 am

Carlos Vazquez

The image of Carmen Miranda wearing the fruit hat has always been a stereotype in American television. I remember seeing it in cartoons when I was little but I never knew the story behind it. Carmen suffered like a lot of Hispanic and Latinos who feel like they don’t have a country. They feel like they no longer relate to their native land but they also don’t feel like belong in the US either. This article did a good job at talking about Carmen Miranda’s struggle to succeed and how she persevered to become the icon she is known as today.



5:49 am

Maria Esquivel

I didn’t know who Carmen Miranda was but I am glad I decided to read her story. “She was everything, and nothing at once” really stood out to me because it really shows how being born in a country and moving to another one can make you feel like you belong to neither country. It was disappointing to hear how the people of Brazil treated her even though she was so proud of Brazil. I really enjoyed reading the story of Carmen and the things she did with her incredible talent.



5:49 am

Destiny Leonard

Growing up I had somewhat been accustomed to the image of a stereotypical “Latin” woman with fruit on her head however I had never realized that the woman behind the fruit hat was a Carmen Miranda. It is interesting to see how she was perceived by the country she identified as home reprimand her for being Americanized is unfortunate as she was very proud of her home country. As a biracial woman I can somewhat relate to her struggle since at times I am viewed as “too white” to be Mexican and “too Mexican” to be white. I understand what its like to identify with a culture an people but to be pushed away or to be viewed as an outsider of your own culture.



5:49 am

Maricela Guerra

Carmen Miranda seemed like a very independent woman, she knew what she wanted and she went for it. Even though her own home town didn’t want she still kept going. Her unique style is something worth seeing, she was out there and still she was positive most of her life. Even when she was booed off the stage she still kept her head high and kept moving forward.



5:49 am

Hanadi Sonouper

Carmen Miranda was such an iconic music inspiration to many, Brazilian culture is such an integrated part of Latin American, especially because it has multiple origins of influence. She was remarked as such a biracial woman, many did not consider her Brazilian because she was spending her career in America, causing controversy that she had left her heritage behind. However, her spirit was full of life and she was able to inspire multiple artists after her, and her legacy and music still live on today.



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