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Maria Bethânia

Date Born.:

Singer, composer

Maria Bethânia

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 30/03/2020

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Maria Bethânia was born on 18 June 1946, in Santo Amaro da Purificação, Bahia. Her parents were Claudionor Vianna (Dona Canô) and Jose Telles Velloso (Mr Zezinho), and the girl’s name was chosen by his brother, the future singer and composer Caetano Velloso, then four years old. He had asked his parents for this, because he was very fond of a song by Capiba, recorded by Nelson Gonçalves, entitled Maria Bethânia.

Although she was very fond of singing, the dream of the young Bahia girl was to become an actress and not a singer. In this sense, Caetano invited her to record the soundtrack of a short film in 1962, and the following year, when he received an invitation to set the score to the Nélson Rodrigues’ play Boca de Ouro, he decided to officially launch his sister in public, singing a samba by Ataulfo Alves and opening the show.

In the same year, with João Gilberto and bossa nova already changing their lives, Maria Bethânia and Caetano met Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Alcivando Luz and others. In June 1964, the group was invited to perform a popular music show Nós, Por Exemplo [Us, for example] in Salvador during the opening week of the Vila Velha Theatre. Then came three more shows: Nova Bossa Velha, Velha Bossa Nova, and Mora da Filosofia. In this last one, Maria Bethânia would be stimulated by Nara Leão, the then muse of the bossa nova, and would from then on receive constant acclaim.

At the beginning of 1965, the singer packed her suitcases in a hurry and travelled to Rio de Janeiro with Caetano at the invitation from Nara Leão, who needed to be replaced in the play Opinião (whose musical director was Dory Caymmi and was directed by Augusto Boal). Maria Bethânia debuted on 13 February, proving to be a hit with the song Carcará (by João do Vale/José Cândido), which meant a milestone in her debut on record. Still in 1965, she recorded her first albums (an EP and an LP) containing sambas by Noel Rosa, Benedito Lacerda and some songs by Caetano, as well as participating in the Arena Canta Bahia show at the Teatro de Arena in São Paulo together with her brother, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Pitti and Tom Zé. The following year, after signing a six-month contract with TV Record, the group would remain for six months at the Teatro de Arena, with the show Arena Canta Bahia, and performed the show Tempo de Guerra. From then on, the singer kept recording records, always staying on top as a great artist.

Until 1970, through her strong presence on stage, Maria Bethânia would stand out with her numerous performances in nightclubs and theatres in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In 1971, she recorded the LP A Tua Presença [Your Presence], which received generous praise from critics for its technical and artistic quality; and in July of the same year, she debuted at the Teatro da Praia, in Rio de Janeiro, with the show Rosa Dos Ventos [Rose of the Winds]. This show made it possible for the public to witness the versatility of the singer on stage, where she acted as interpreter of the most varied musical genres: from bolero to baião, and from frevo to samba. Maria Bethânia would soon become nationally known, with more than 30 records recorded throughout her career, sharing the stage and albums with Caetano, Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo.

In November of 1972, her new album produced by Caetano (Drama - Angel Exterminado [Drama - Angel Exterminated]) arrived in stores, and then the singer performed in Italy, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway.

In early 1976, she recorded the LP Pássaro Proibido [Forbidden Bird], which represented another milestone in her career. In addition to receiving her first gold record for this LP’s sales, Maria Bethânia, through the song Olhos Nos Olhos [Eyes in Eyes] (by Chico Buarque), was no longer just a singer on FM radio stations, occupying the first places of the stations AM, and definitively consecrating herself as a popular singer. Still in 1976, she participated in the Doces Barbaros [Sweet Barbarians] Project, a musical ensemble formed by Caetano, Gal Costa and Gilberto Gil. The show toured the country, becoming an album and a film.

With the album Álibi, recorded in 1978, Maria Bethânia became the first singer to sell more than one million copies. The album contained the songs Negue [Deny] (by Adelino Moreira and Enzo Passos), Sonho Meu [My Dream] (by Ivone Lara and Délcio Carvalho), Cálice [Chalice] (by Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque), Ronda (by Paulo Vanzolini), and Explode Coração [Exploding Heart] (by Gonzaguinha). Two years later, she would record the album Brasil with Caetano, João Gilberto and Gilberto Gil. In turn, her LP Dezembros [Decembers], released in 1986, featured the bolero Anos Dourados [Golden Years], by Tom Jobim and Chico Buarque.

Until the mid-1990s, the singer produced more intimate albums, but in 1994, she returned to romanticism on a single record with the song As Canções que Você Fez pra Mim [Songs That You Made for Me] by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos. In 1996, she released the CD Âmbar [Amber], which the following year was transformed into the show Âmbar - Imitação da Vida [Amber - Imitation of Life], a double album and a huge hit with the public. The double CD Diamante Verdadeiro [True Diamond], also with a live show, was released in 1999.

Maria Bethânia recorded the following songs, all written by Caetano Velloso: Baby; De manhã [In the Morning]; Diamante verdadeiro [True Diamond]; A Tua Presença Morena [Your Brunette Presence]; As Ayabás; Avarandado; Ela e Eu [She and I]; Esse Cara [This Guy]; Gente [People]; Eu e Água [Water and I]; Iansã; Luz da Noite [Night Light]; Maria, Maria; Quem Me Dera [I Wish]; Midas; Reconvexo; Quero Ficar com Você [I Want to Be with You]; Tá Combinado [It’s Agreed]; Talismã [Talisman]; Tigresa [Tigress]; Trampolim [Trampoline]; Sucesso Bendito [Blessed Success]; Taturano; Tudo de Novo [All Over Again]; Sete Mil Vezes [Seven Thousand Times]; O Nome da Cidade [The Name of the City]; Onde Andarás [Where Are You]; Noite de Cristal [Crystal Night]; Motriz; Negror dos Tempos [Black of These Days]; Vida Real [Real Life]; Um Índio [An Indian]; Sol Negro [Black Sun]; Queda d´Água [Waterfall]; Pele [Skin]; No Carnaval [At Carnival] and others.

Throughout her career, Maria Bethânia has been recording songs by countless national composers. For her performances over the decades, she is considered one of the best singers in Brazilian popular music.


Recife, 29 June 2005.
(Updated on 8 October 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

FONSECA, Herbert. Caetano, esse cara. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 1993.

ÍCONES. Disponível em: <>.  Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.

MARIA Betânia. Disponível em:<>.  Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.

MARIA Betânia. Disponível em: <>.  Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.

MARIA  Betânia Viana Telles Velloso. Disponível em:<>.  Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.

SCHUMAHER, Schuma; BRAZIL, Erico Vital (Org.). Dicionário mulheres do Brasil: de 1500 até a atualidade.  Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000.


how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Maria Bethânia. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.