09 February 2012

Beth Carvalho



Of the many, many talented women singers in Brazil there are three who have been anointed the Queens of Samba: Clara Nunes, Alcione and Beth Carvalho. And as if being Queen isn't enough, one of those three has been elevated even higher. She's the Godmother of Samba, she's a personal favorite of mine, she's Beth Carvalho.

A lot of Brazilian female singers have soft, whispery voices that serve beautifully for singing Bossa Nova. That was the musical style Beth Carvalho began in some 47 years ago, but she lasted in it for less than a year. With her driving, forceful voice, it's samba she was born for. Over her long career, Beth worked with and recorded all the legendary sambistas, with a special emphasis on those from her beloved samba school, Mangueira — Nelson Sargento, Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho. Beth also recorded plenty of sambas from the other big schools, including Portela, and constantly introduced new composers to the public.

When I first came to Brazil I, like most foreigners, adopted Mangueira as my samba school. It was the cool choice. But I've had a falling out with Mangueira, first because nowadays there's too much drug trafficking in the Mangueira community, and also because of what the school's directors did to Beth during the carnaval parade in 2007. For 36 years Beth had paraded with Mangueira down the runway, under her own steam. But she'd been having back problems and this time she planned to ride on the float of "baluartes," the school's Old Guard where, if you ask me, she most certainly belonged. But after Beth climbed up onto the float (with enormous difficulty) she was summarily removed and left behind, on the ground, in tears. The baluartes told her she could parade on the runway, as she always had. But this was tantamount to throwing Frank Sinatra off a Las Vegas stage and telling him to go sing in the men's room. I mean, this is just not done.

No one remembers or cares what Mangueira's 2007 theme was, or where they placed in the final standings. All that's remembered is that that was the year Beth Carvalho was roundly dissed. Not long after that dreadful behavior on the part of Mangueira, Beth had spinal surgery, stayed away from performing for two years while she recuperated, and — because no one can hold a grudge for long in Brazil — finally made peace with the Mangueira directorate and returned to parade with them last year, seated on a float. Word is she'll be with them again this year. Even though I'm still holding a bit of a grudge, if Beth can forgive them, so can I. After all, no one sings the school's rousing anthem, Hymn to Mangueira, like Beth Carvalho:

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