• Robert Hebert

Honoring Vinicius (1913 to 1980)


Marcus Vinicius da Cruz e Mello Moraes (19 October 1913 – 9 July 1980), also known as Vinícius de Moraes and nicknamed O Poetinha ("The little poet"), is a Brazilian icon, a legendary poet, lyricist, essayist, and playwright. He served as a diplomat, composed bossa nova music, and recorded his own albums.

​​Moraes was born in Gávea, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, to Clodoaldo da Silva Pereira Moraes, a public servant, and Lidia Cruz, a housewife and amateur pianist. In 1916, his family moved to Botafogo, where he attended Afranio Peixoto Primary School. In 1920, he gained entrance to a Masonic lodge through his maternal grandfather. Fleeing the 18 of the Copacabana Fort revolt, his parents moved to Governador Island while Moraes remained at his grandfather's home in Botafogo to finish school. During visits with his parents on weekends and holidays, he became acquainted with the composer Bororo.

Beginning in 1924, Moraes attended St. Ignatius, a Jesuit high school, where he sang in the choir and wrote theatrical sketches. Three years later he became friends with the brothers Paulo and Haroldo Tapajos, with whom he wrote his first musical compositions, which were performed at friends' parties. In 1929, he completed high school and his family moved back to Gávea. During the same year, he was admitted to the Faculty of Law at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). At the "School of Catete", he became friends with essayist and future novelist Octavio de Faria, an activist integrist Catholic and leader of a group of right-wing Catholics organized around Centro Dom Vital, a think-tank created by Jackson de Figueiredo shortly before his death.

Faria encouraged Moraes's literary vocation, turning him into a kind of right-wing fellow traveler. Moraes received his college degree in Legal and Social Sciences in 1933. Soon after, he published his first two collections of poetry: Caminho para a distancia ("Path into the Distance") (1933) and Forma e exegese ("Form and Exegesis").

In 1936, Moraes became film censor for the Ministry of Education and Health. Two years later he won a British Council fellowship to study English language and literature at Oxford University. He abandoned his use of blank verse and free verse in favor of the sonnet, both the Italian form used in Portuguese poetry (two quatrains, two tercets) and the English form (three quatrains and a couplet). He was considered one of the most prominent of the "generation of '45", a group of Brazilian writers in the 1930s and 1940s who rejected early modernism in favor of traditional forms and vocabulary. He is usually equated with his friend João Cabral de Melo Neto for the high technical skill of their poetry. However, if in Cabral's works technique served the depiction of objective reality, in Moraes's work technique served the depiction of the subjective mood of sexual love. The basic meter in Moraes's love poetry is the decasyllable, taken mostly from Camoes' lyrical poetry. During his stay in England, Moraes wrote the verse collection Novos poemas ("New Poetry").

In 1941, he returned to Brazil and worked as a film critic for the newspaper A Manha ("The Morning"), as a contributor to the literary journal Clima ("Climate"), and at the Banking Employees' Institute of Social Security, the public pension fund for workers in banking institutions. During the following year, he was commissioned to accompany American writer Waldo Frank, a literary acquaintance, on a tour across Northern Brazil. In Moraes's words, it was contact with both Frank and "appalling poverty" that turned him into "a man of the Left".

In 1943, Moraes passed the admission test for a diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE). Shortly after, he was assigned as vice-consul at Los Angeles. He published a book of poems, Cinco elegias ("Five Elegies"), followed by Poemas, sonetos e baladas ("Poems, Sonnets and Ballads"). There, he published two more books: Livro de sonetos ("Book of Sonnets") and Novos poemas II ("New Poems II").

From there, during the 1950s he worked for the Brazilian consular service in Paris and Rome. He often visited historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda, who was teaching in Italy as a visiting scholar. He also wrote film reviews for Samuel Wainer's Vargoist paper Ultima Hora. He was named a delegate to the Punta del Este film festival and was given a commission to study the management of film festivals at Cannes, Berlin, Locarno, and Venice, in view of the São Paulo Cinema Festival, which was to be a part of the commemoration of the city's 400th anniversary.

In the mid-1950s, he went to Paris as second secretary at the Brazilian embassy in France. There he released his first samba, "Quando tu passas por mim" ("When You Pass By") which was composed with Antonio Maria. During the next year, he wrote lyrics to chamber music pieces by Claudio Santoro. He became a well-known playwright with the staging of his musical Orfeu da Conceição ("Orpheus of the Conception") in 1956 and for the film made of it called Black Orpheus.


Moraes met pianist Antonio (Tom) Carlos Jobim, who was commissioned to write music for Orfeu da Conceição. Jobim wrote "Se todos fossem iguais a você" ("If Others Were Like You"), "Um nome de mulher" ("A Woman's Name"), and other songs included in the production. The play was staged in 1956 in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, having its text published in a deluxe edition illustrated by Carlos Scliar. Later that year, Moraes returned to France, having been transferred in 1957 from the Brazilian embassy to the Brazilian representation at UNESCO. And, in 1958, he was transferred to the Brazilian embassy in Montevideo, returning to Brazil in transit.


In 1958, the singer Elizete Cardoso released her album Canção do Amor Demais, marking the beginning of bossa nova. This record consists of compositions by the Jobim-Vinícius partnership, or by either of the two ("Canção do Amor Demais", "Luciana", "Estrada Branca", "Chega de Saudade", "Outra Vez"...). The recording also included a relatively unknown João Gilberto on two tracks. With the release of this record, Moraes's career in music had begun.

The songs of Jobim and Moraes were recorded by numerous Brazilian singers and performers of that time. Renditions of many Jobim-Moraes numbers on Gilberto's first, second, and third albums established the sound and repertory of the bossa nova and influenced a generation of singers and songwriters, especially in Rio de Janeiro. Among these songs are "Garota de Ipanema", "Insensatez", and "Chega de Saudade". In August 1962, Moraes performed for the first time as a singer with Jobim and Gilberto at the Au Bon Gourmet in Rio. This was the first of his "pocket-shows", performances made to small audiences where he presented new compositions, some of which became international hits, such as the aforementioned Garota de Ipanema as well as "Samba da Benção". Moraes introduced promising singers of the time, such as Nara Leão. Moraes wasn't a natural singer. He had a flat, nasal baritone voice, but he used background vocalists to sweeten the sound. His first undertaking as entertainer ended in 1963, when he returned to his post in the Brazilian representation at UNESCO.


During the 1960s, Moraes collaborated with Baden Powell on a series of songs known as the Afro sambas. His diplomatic career came to a close in 1969, during a purge at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

But, throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, he continued his collaborations, including with Edu Lobo on the Elis Regina hit song "Arrastão". Indeed, in the 1970s, Moraes collaborated with Antônio Pecci Filho, a guitarist and vocalist nicknamed Toquinho, on musical and literary works. He toured Europe with Chico Buarque and Nara Leão, and Argentina with Dorival Caymmi and Oscar Castro-Neves. His most stable musical partnership, however, remained with Toquinho, with whom he released popular albums. Their live performances in Brazil and Europe were often conducted as intimate meetings with the public with Moraes seated onstage at a table with a checked tablecloth … chatting and telling amusing stories to the audience in French, English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

After a long period of poor health, which included several visits to rehabilitation clinics, he died at his home in Rio de Janeiro on July 9, 1980, at the age of 66. He is buried in Rio de Janeiro's Cemitério São João Batista. In 2006, Moraes was posthumously reinstated to the Brazilian diplomatic corps. In February 2010, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved his post-mortem promotion to the rank of ambassador (first-class minister). In December 2014, following a three-week public vote, the mascot of the 2016 Summer Olympics was named after him.


Black Orpheus is a 1959 romantic tragedy film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus and starring Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes, which is itself an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in the modern context of a favela ("slum") in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. The film was an international co-production among production companies in Brazil, France and Italy.

The film is particularly noted for its soundtrack by two Brazilian composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose song "A Felicidade" opens the film; and Luiz Bonfá, whose "Manhã de Carnaval" and "Samba de Orfeu" have become classics of bossa nova. The songs sung by the character Orfeu were dubbed by singer Agostinho dos Santos. Lengthy passages of the film were shot in the Morro da Babilônia, a favela in the Leme neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.

Black Orpheus won the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In the last case, Brazil was credited together with France and Italy.

Black Orpheus was cited by Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of his early musical influences, while Barack Obama notes in his memoir Dreams from My Father (1995) that it was his mother's favorite film. Obama, however, did not share his mother's preferences upon first watching the film during his first years at Columbia University: "I suddenly realized that the depiction of the childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad's dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white, middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different."

The film's soundtrack also inspired Vince Guaraldi's 1962 album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.

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