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Dorival Caymmi: Beloved Brazilian Songwriter


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Dorival Caymmi, a revered composer and singer of Brazilian popular song who influenced generations of bossa nova performers and whose first major hit helped launch the Hollywood career of entertainer Carmen Miranda, has died. He was 94. Caymmi died Aug. 16 at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He had kidney cancer and multiple organ failure.

Caymmi's influence on Brazilian music cannot be overstated. Bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim once called him a “universal gen- ius" and his country's greatest composer. Those who covered Caymmi's music and borrowed heavily from his style included Joao Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Beth Carval- ho. Yet it was with Brazilian singer Miranda that he was most often linked.

She had an enormous hit in 1939 with Caymmi's song “O Que E Que a Baiana Tem?" (What Does the Bahiana Have?). The piece, which she included in her nightclub act, impressed a U.S. producer, who subsequently introduced her to the United States. Throughout the 1940s, she appeared in Hollywood musicals emphasizing her inexhaustible hip-wagging and impossibly garish hats towering with fruit.

It was a display far from the subtle beauty -- even studied laziness -- of Caymmi's style, which Brazilian singer and composer Carlos Lyra once praised for its “suave and romantic colloquialism."

Caymmi's inspiration was in propulsive Afro-Brazilian rhythms, gentle sambas and other indigenous folk sounds of his birthplace, the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. With a rich, intimate voice, Caymmi recorded nearly 20 of his own albums and wrote about 100 songs.

He captured with simple, often sentimental phrasing the lives of the working class -- most famously, fishermen ("Promessa de Pescador," “Suite dos Pescadores"). He also was known for extolling the beauty of women, in the recording studio and beyond.

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