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

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.

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