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Luiz Gonzaga

Date Born.:

Singer and composer.

Luiz Gonzaga

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Last update: 11/05/2018

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Known as the king of ‘baião’, Luiz do Nascimento Gonzaga was born on 13 December 1912, on the Caiçara farm, in the municipality of Exu, located at the foot of the Serra do Araripe, Pernambuco. He was the son of accordionist and instrument repairman Januário José dos Santos and Ana Batista de Jesus.

He spent his whole childhood alongside his father, accompanying him from the age of eight to dances where he helped play the accordion. He also worked in the fields, at fairs and looking after herds of goats.

In 1924, at the age of twelve, he bought his first accordion, an eight-bass bellows, manufactured by Veado and by the age of fifteen he’d already gained prestige in the region as an accordionist.

In 1930, due to an unrequited love, he fell out with his family and ran away on foot to Crato, Ceará, enlisting in the Army. With the outbreak of the 1930 Revolution, he travelled throughout the country with his troop. In the army he was known as ‘Corneteiro 122’ (Bugler 122).

When he was discharged from military service in 1939, he went to Rio de Janeiro, at the time the capital of the republic, and began singing and performing in Mangue, an area of prostitution in the city where there were many cabarets.

He performed on the game show of Ary Barroso, which was very popular at the time, singing Northeast music and getting the highest score, being later contracted by Rádio Nacional. In 1941 he recorded his first album for RCA.

In 1945 his son, Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento Júnior, or Gonzaguinha, was born and in the same year he began his partnership with Humberto Teixeira.

He married, in 1948, Pernambuco teacher Helena Cavalcanti, whom he’d met backstage at Rádio Nacional.

As Humberto Teixeira had decided to dedicate himself to a political career, Luiz Gonzaga ended their partnership and began composing with the Pernambuco doctor José de Souza Dantas, or Zédantas, his other great partner. With Humberto Teixeira, Zédantas and others, he composed a large number of ‘baiões’, ‘toadas’, ‘xotes’, polkas, ‘mazurcas’ and waltzes, leaving over 600 songs registered in the Brazilian discography. Many of these albums can be found in the archives of the Coordenadoria de Fonoteca, at the Centre for Documentation and Studies of Brazilian History, in the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation.

In 1980 he sang for Pope John Paulo II in Fortaleza, during his visit to Brazil. On this occasion he removed his ‘cangaceiro’ hat, which had become his trademark, from his head and placed it, respectfully, on the head of the Pope who blessed it and said Obrigado, cantador! (Thank you, singer!)

Luiz Gonzaga became a Brazilian cultural symbol: appearing on the podium alongside presidents of the Republic, enlivening king’s dinners and even performing at the Olympia in Paris in 1986.

He died on 2 August 1989, at 3:15pm, in Hospital Santa Joana, Recife, where he had been interned for 42 days. His body lay in state at the Pernambuco Legislative Assembly and was buried in the Asa Branca Park chapel in Exu, his home town.

Among his compositions, the most famous are:

Asa Branca (White Wing), Juazeiro, Assum preto (Black Bird), Cintura fina (Thin Waist), A volta da asa branca (The Return of White Wing), Boiadeiro, Paraíba, Respeita Januário (Respect Januário), Olha pro céu (Look to the Sky), São João do carneirinho (St John of the Little Lamb), São João na roça (St John in the Countryside), O xote das meninas (The Girls’ Xote), ABC do sertão, Riacho do Navio (Ship’s Creek), O cheiro da Carolina (The Scent of Carolina), Derramaro o gai (Someone spilled the gas), A feira de Caruaru (Caruaru Market), Dezessete e setecentos (Seventeen and Seven Hundred), A morte do vaqueiro (The Death of the Cowboy), Ovo de codorna (Quail’s Egg), Forró nº 1.

Quando ôiei a terra ardendo (When I looked at the burning land)
Quá fogueira de São João (Like a St. John’s bonfire)
Eu perguntei, ai, pra Deus do céu, ai (I asked, then, to God in Heaven)
Pruquê tamanha judiação (Why so much suffering)
Qui braseiro, qui fornáia (What a burning place, what a furnace)
Nem um pé de plantação (Not even a single plant) 
Pru falta d´água perdi meu gado (Through lack of water I lost my cattle)
Morreu de sede meu alazão (Died of thirst my herd)
Inté mesmo a Asa Branca (Even the White Wing)
Bateu asas do sertão (Flew away from the semi-arid region)
Entonce eu disse, adeus Rosinha (Then I said, goodbye Rosinha)
Guarda contigo meu coração (Keep my heart with you)
Hoje longe muitas légua (Today many leagues away)
Numa tristea solidão (In a lonely sadness)
Espero a chuva cair de novo (I wait for the rain to fall again)
Pra mim vortá pro meu sertão (For me to come back to my place)
Quando o verde dos teus óio (When the green from your eyes)
Se espaiá na prantação (spread throught the plantation)
Eu te asseguro, num chore não, viu? (I assure you, please do not cry)
Que eu vortarei, viu, meu coração! (That I will return, you see, my love!)

(Asa Branca, ‘toada’ by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, 1947).


Recife, 18 July 2003.
Updated on 31 August 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
Updated on 11 jun. 2018.

sources consulted

CÂMARA, Renato Phaelante da. Luiz Gonzaga e o cantar nordestino: memória. Recife: UFRPE, [199-].

FERRETTI, Mundicarmo Maria Rocha. Baião dos dois: Zédantas e Luiz Gonzaga. Recife: FJN, Ed. Massangana, 1988.

A VIDA e os 60 maiores sucessos do rei do baião Luiz Gonzaga. Recife: Coqueiro, [199-].

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Luiz Gonzaga. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009