Luiz Gonzaga

Part musician and part oral historian, Luiz Gonzaga helped to preserve northeastern Brazil’s native music and developed the baião genre. Born in 1912, Gonzaga was the son of a farmer and took up the accordion at the same time as he entered the fields to work. Inspired by the Robin Hood-esque outlaw/accordion player Lampião, Gonzaga practiced the instrument, became a prodigy, and performed at local parties and dances until his military service. While in the military, Gonzaga learned to play the cornet and chose to stay in Rio de Janeiro, where he played in bars and on the streets. In Rio, Gonzaga came into contact with a population of northeastern Brazilians who missed the music of their native region and so he began performing for them. In 1943 he premiered his new act, fitted out in northeastern traditional costume, and immediately attracted a fan base. He developed the baião genre in 1946 after releasing a single of the same name, creating its small pop ensemble format, which translated the form from its folkloric origins to the pop main stage. While he mostly played traditional songs, in 1947 his original composition “Asa Branca” was recorded and showed his talent for writing. Until 1954 he worked on the radio to much acclaim. He was signed by RCA Records and released records regularly through the late 1960s. With the rise of bossa nova and rock music in Brazil’s urban spaces in the late 1960s, Gonzaga’s fame faded, but he continued to tour in the country and maintained his status as a pop icon. From the 1970s until his death in 1989, Gonzaga again saw a period of popularity as his songs began to be covered by a new generation of Brazilian artists.