The radio era

Research analyzes Brazilian music between the first generation of samba and bossa nova

UH Archive / Folhapress Radio Nácional studio in 1952: orchestras, amateur musical hour and music idolsUH Archive / Folhapress

There is a gap in Brazilian academic and musical literature covering the years between the reign of the first generation of samba and the invention of bossa nova. Historian and musician Theophilo Augusto Pinto, a professor at the University Center of Fine Arts in São Paulo, wrote a doctoral thesis shedding light on a little known and rarely studied aspect of the time – radio broadcasts recorded in the period between the end of World War II and the second half of the 1950s – highlighting the producers, radio broadcasters, arrangers and musicians who made history. Until now, according to Pinto, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Music and the Media (Musimid), associated with the Graduate Studies Program at Paulista University (UNIP) and the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP), research has been based almost exclusively on sound recordings (records), not on radio program reproductions. Completed in 2012 and defended in 2013, Pinto’s thesis, entitled Gente que brilha quando os maestros se encontram – Música e músicos da “era de ouro” do rádio brasileiro (1945-1957) [People who shine when the maestros gather – Music and the musicians of the “golden age” of Brazilian radio (1945-1957)], was recently published in book form under the same title by Editora Alameda. Pinto is doing his post-doctoral work at UNIP, and he defended his thesis under the supervision of Professor Elias Thomé Saliba of the School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP.

On radio’s impact as a means of disseminating information, Pinto says “either people read books or they count on the recollections of someone who was alive at the time.” Pinto, who holds a bachelor’s degree in music from ECA-USP, says radio broadcasts have not really been examined. The history of the most important means of disseminating music before television is noted more for the reputation of its radio theater programs, amateur competitions, elections of “queens” and “kings” of radio and some of the hugely popular singers of the time, like Orlando Silva, Ângela Maria, Dalva de Oliveira and Cauby Peixoto.

Folhapress Singer, composer and broadcaster Almirante (left), singer Carmen Miranda and communications impresario Paulo Machado de Carvalho in 1955Folhapress

Pinto looks at the role of radio as a means of bringing people together, through real-time programming (such as music, radio dramas and soccer). “Radio’s influence is very different from that of the recording industry,” he says. “The songs have to be synced with speech, and producers are very involved.” The most famous producer of the time, with a weekly show on Rádio Tupi in Rio de Janeiro, was Almirante (the stage name of Henrique Foréis Domingues), who, in addition to being a host, was also a singer, composer and eventually a researcher on the history of Brazilian popular music.

“Theophilo Pinto’s research is helping to bridge a gap in Brazilian historical research, which has still not focused as much as it should on the history of radio and television,” says Professor Marcos Napolitano of the History Department at FFLCH-USP and member of Pinto’s doctoral examination committee. “By drawing on many important documents, he connects the history of radio to the history of Brazilian music.” To this end, since 2005 Pinto has listened to 1,081 music programs on the stations Rádio Nacional and Rádio Tupi (the most popular stations at the time), consisting of 4,861 songs, not including news, comedy and theater programs. The recordings belong in part to the catalogue of the Collector’s Studios, a Brazilian publisher and site specializing in the history of radio and recordings from the 1940s and 1950s, which, in conjunction with archives at the Museum of Imagery and Sound (MIS) in Rio, has recovered more than 1,200 programs. Other recordings, also found at MIS, were digitized with the help of students at Anhembi-Morumbi University in São Paulo, where Pinto taught from 2001 to 2014, and are stored at the university’s library.

Almanac of the Rádio Nacional from 1956 Audience for a live musical program on the Rádio Nacional in Rio de JaneiroAlmanac of the Rádio Nacional from 1956

The title of Pinto’s book fuses the names of two famous programs broadcast on Rádio Nacional in Rio de Janeiro: People who shine, produced and presented by Paulo Roberto (a pseudonym used by the physician José Marques Gomes), and When the maestros gather, conceived and produced by Paulo Tapajós, who was also a composer. In the latter, the station’s main maestros – including Radamés Gnattali, Lírio Panicalli and Léo Peracchi – demonstrate both versatility and virtuosity, creating original arrangements for different styles of music. Gnattali is one of the era’s most well-known names, along with Almirante and the composer and broadcaster Ary Barroso. Notwithstanding his criticism of a certain style of samba arrangement influenced by jazz, Barroso, also author of Aquarela do Brasil, coined the expression samba de casaca [samba-of-the-coat-and-tie] to describe the clothing worn by the maestro when performing this music, which rendered it “dignified enough to be performed on the stage of Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theater.”

North american influence
Pinto based his samba research on three pillars: an examination of its history, the presence of elements of Afro-Brazilian culture and foreign influences. In the first instance, his research challenged the prevailing notion that Brazilian music from the era preceding bossa nova’s esthetic revolution lacked sophistication. João Gilberto not only sang on the radio; he also imitated the style of Orlando Silva. “He also said that he started to become interested in the music by listening to Aquarela do Brasil arranged by Radamés Gnattali on the Rádio Nacional,” notes radio researcher Eduardo Vicente, professor in the Department of Film, Radio and Television at ECA-USP.

Folhapress Carioca singer Orlando Silva is crowned the “king of radio” in 1953Folhapress

As for “negritude” (or the “construction of a notion of ethnicity in Brazilian music for the public of that era”), also associated with soccer, an analysis of the historical context brings to light several hints of racial prejudice. On the one hand, Afro-Brazilians gained visibility as artists and athletes; on the other, they were also associated with the figure of the malandro, which reinforced the stereotype of Afro-Brazilians as mostly vagrants. Because of this reductionist view, the author relates that during the era of the Estado Novo term used to refer to the Getúlio Vargas regime 1937-1945), when the samba (a musical genre tied to Brazil’s national identity) was associated with marginality and the bohemian lifestyle and thereby tinged with racial prejudice, a new door opened to what some broadcasters called a “new fever for folklore,” when artists from Rio de Janeiro began to perform songs with rural themes, including some from other regions of Brazil.

On a track parallel to that of “folkloric” nationalism, the language of jazz began to penetrate some types of Brazilian music. The samba-canção [samba-of-the-song], which began to spread more widely at this time, had the “formal structure of a jazz song,” observes researcher and musician Ivan Vilela, a professor at ECA-USP: “There is part A, which is sung, followed by part B, and then an instrumental interlude containing the melody from one of the two parts, then part A or part B, whichever was not sung, is played again, and then the music ends.” There was also what social scientist Santuza Cambraia Naves called in his book O violão azul: Modernismo e música popular [The blue guitar: modernism and popular music] (FGV Editora, 1998) an “esthetic of excess” in the orchestral arrangements with a “profusion of brass” associated with the North American genre.

Radamés Gnatalli Archive Maestro Radamés GnattaliRadamés Gnatalli Archive

In the emerging “folkloric fever,” the baião spreading across the Southeast of Brazil also had to adapt to certain “canons,” reflecting an “ethnocentric and culturally superior attitude” of middle class consumers, according to Vilela. “The first recording of a song by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, Baião, by the group Quatro Ases e Um Coringa, has a vocal arrangement typical of a Broadway musical.” Pinto says the recordings to which he had access show that even at the time, the era was viewed as an interim period in which Brazilian music had questionable value, which led to the search for new genres and influences. This is also why Pinto believes that Brazilian radio during the golden age was ripe for invention. In circumventing a certain “technological precariousness,” broadcast radio in Brazil faced the daily challenge of maintaining “high quality programming despite limited available resources.”

Pinto, T. A. Gente que brilha quando os maestros se encontram: Música e músicos da “era de ouro” do rádio brasileiro. São Paulo: Alameda, 2016, 308 pp.