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Irene Cara (born March 18, 1959) is an Americanmarker singer and actress. Cara won an Academy Award in 1984 in the category of Best Original Song for co-writing "Flashdance... What a Feeling". She is also known for her recording of the song "Fame", and she also starred in the 1980 film Fame.

She married Hollywood stuntman Conrad Palmisano in 1986. They divorced in 1991.

Early life

Cara's father, Gaspar Cara, was an Afro-Caribbean Puerto Rican. He died in 1994. Cara's mother, Louise, is an American of French and Cuban descent. Cara has two sisters and two brothers.

At age three, Irene Cara was one of five finalists for the 'Little Miss America' pageant. At age five, Cara began to play the piano "by ear". Soon thereafter, she began seriously studying music, acting, and dance.

Cara's performing career started when she was a child on Spanish-language television, professionally singing and dancing. She made early TV appearances on the Original Amateur Hour (singing in Spanish) and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. She was a regular on PBS’s educational program The Electric Company, which starred Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, and Morgan Freeman. As a child, Cara recorded a Latin-market Spanish-language record; an English Christmas album soon followed. She also appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington (with Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr. and Roberta Flack).

Professional career


Cara appeared in on-and off-Broadway theatrical shows including the musicals Ain't Misbehavin', The Me Nobody Knows (which won an Obie award), Maggie Flynn opposite Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, and Via Galactica with Raul Julia.

She was the original Daisy Allen on the 1970’s daytime serial Love of Life. Next came her role as Angela in romance/thriller Aaron Loves Angela, followed by her portrayal of the title character in Sparkle, Television brought Cara international acclaim for serious dramatic roles in two outstanding mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.

John Willis' Screen World, Vol. 28, named her one of twelve "Promising New Actors of 1976;" that same year, a readers' poll in Right On! magazine named her Top Actress.

Cara graduated from the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, a rival of the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art. Coincidentally, LaGuardia High was the inspiration for the performing arts school in her third movie, Fame, along with The Juilliard Schoolmarker.

When she attended high school, it was called the School of Performing Arts. In 1984 the High School of Music & Art was merged with the School of Performing Arts (founded in 1948 by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia) to become LaGuardia High.

Fame and subsequent roles

The 1980 hit movie Fame catapulted Irene Cara to stardom. Cara was originally cast as a dancer, and when production heard her voice they re-wrote the role of Coco Hernandez. As Coco Hernandez, she sang both the title song "Fame" and the film’s second hit single "Out Here on My Own". These songs, the only hit songs from the movie, helped make the film's soundtrack a chart-topping, multi-platinum album. Further history was made when at the Academy Awards that year: It was the first time two songs from one film were nominated in the same category ("Fame" and "Out Here on My Own") and both were sung by Cara. Thus, Cara had the opportunity to be one of the few singers to perform more than one song at the Oscar ceremony. (Note: Robert Goulet, who sang all the Oscar-nominated songs in 1963, is among several singers who had done so in the past.) "Fame," written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, won the award that year.

The motion picture Fame earned Cara Grammy nominations in 1980 for Best New Female Artist and Best New Pop Artist, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical. Billboard Magazine named her Top New Single Artist, while Cashbox Magazine awarded her both Most Promising Female Vocalist and Top Female Vocalist.

Asked by the Fame TV series' producers to reprise her role as Coco Hernandez, she declined so as to focus her attention on her recording career. As a result, newcomer Erica Gimpel played the role. However, Cara did make a special guest appearance on the series in 1983 as a "successful alumna" of the performing-arts school portrayed in the series, singing her then-current hit single, "Why Me?".

In 1982, Cara earned the Image Award for Best Actress when she co-starred with Diahann Carroll and Rosalind Cash in the NBC Movie of the Week, Maya Angelou's Sister, Sister. Cara portrayed Myrlie Evers-Williams in the PBS TV movie about civil rights leader Medgar Evers, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story; and earned an NAACP Image Award Best Actress nomination. She also appeared in 1982's Killing 'em Softly.

Cara was also slated to star in her own sitcom,Irene, on NBC in 1981. Even though the pilot aired and received favorable reviews, the network did not pick it up for its fall season. It also starred veteran performers Kaye Ballard and Teddy Wilson, as well as newcomers Julia Duffy and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

In 1983, Cara appeared as herself in the film D.C. Cab, which is a film about a group of cabbies. The movie stars Mr. T. One of the characters, an obsessed Cara fan, decorated his Checker Cab as a shrine to her.

In addition to her music and film work, Cara also continued to perform in live theatre during this period. In the summer of 1980, she briefly played the role of Dorothy in The Wiz on tour, in a role that Stephanie Mills had first portrayed in the original Broadway production. Coincidentally, Cara and Mills had shared the stage together as children in the original 1968 Broadway musical Maggie Flynn, starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, in which both young girls played Civil War orphans.

Flashdance... What A Feeling

In 1983, Cara reached the peak of her music career with the title song for the movie Flashdance: "Flashdance...What A Feeling", which she co-wrote with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. Cara penned the lyrics to the song with Keith Forsey while riding in a car in New York heading to the studio to record it; Moroder composed the music.

Cara admitted later that she was initially reluctant to work with Giorgio Moroder because she had no wish to invite further comparisons with Moroder's most famous client, Donna Summer, , but it paid off, as the result was a record that topped the charts around the world and garnered numerous accolades for Cara. She won: the 1983 Academy Award for Best Song (Oscar); 1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, Top Female Vocalist - Pop Singles; Black Contemporary Female Vocalist - Pop Singles; Top Pop Crossover Artist - Black Contemporary Singles; Pop Single of the Year; American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year.

"Flashdance..." was re-recorded by Cara twice. The first time was in 1995 as a track in the original soundtrack for the movie "The Full Monty;" the second time was in 2002, as a duet she recorded with successful Swiss artist DJ BoBo.


In 1984, she was in the Clint Eastwood - Burt Reynolds comedic thriller City Heat, in which she sang the standards "Embraceable You" and "Get Happy". She also co-wrote the theme song “City Heat,” which was sung by the legendary jazz vocalist Joe Williams. In 1985, Cara co-starred with Tatum O'Neal in Certain Fury, a notorious box office and critical flop about women escaping prison. In 1986, Cara appeared in the film Busted Up. She also provided the voice of Snow White in the unofficial sequel to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Filmation's Happily Ever After, in 1993. That same year, she appeared as Mary Magdalene in the record-breaking anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar opposite Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, and Dennis DeYoung.

Also in the 1990s, Cara won a bitter lawsuit against her old record company over unpaid royalties and other career issues.

Additional recordings

Along with her career in acting and several hit singles, Cara has released three albums thus far. Those albums are Anyone Can See in 1982, What A Feelin' in 1983, and Carasmatic in 1987, the most successful of these being What A Feelin. In 1985 she collaborated with the Hispanic megagroup Hermanos in the song Cantaré, cantarás in which she sings a solo segment with the Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo. She also released a compilation of Eurodance singles in the mid to late 1990s entitled Precarious 90's. Cara recently contributed a dance single, titled "Forever My Love", to the compilation album titled Gay Happening Vol. 12, in 2006.

Cara has also worked as a backup vocalist for Vicki Sue Robinson, Lou Reed, George Duke, Oleta Adams, and Evelyn "Champagne" King.

Recent activities

Cara toured Europe and Asia throughout the 1990s, scoring several modest dance hits on European charts, but no US chart hits.

Cara received two prestigious honors for her career in March 2004, with her induction into the Ciboney Cafe's Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the sixth annual Prestige Awards.

In June 2005, Cara won the third round of the NBC television series Hit Me Baby One More Time, performing "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" and covered Anastacia's song "I'm Outta Love" with her current all-female band, Hot Caramel. At the 2006 AFL Grand Final in Melbournemarker, Cara performed "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" as an opener to the pre-match entertainment.

Cara lives in Floridamarker and works with her band Hot Caramel. She appeared in season 2 of CMT's reality show Gone Country, but left the show realizing she "was not cut out for reality television."

Awards and nominations

  • NAACP Image Award-Best Actress in a TV Movie- For Us the Living [1983]

  • American Music Awards: Best Pop Single of the Year [1983]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Top Female Vocalist - Pop Singles [1983]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Black Contemporary - Pop Singles [1983]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Adult Contemporary Vocalist - Pop Singles [1983]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Top Pop Crossover Artist - Black Contemporary Singles [1983]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Pop Single of the Year [1983]

  • Golden Globe: Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy (Fame) [1980]

  • Golden Globe: Best Song in a Motion Picture (Flashdance) [1983]

  • People's Choice Awards: Favorite Young Artist [1980]

  • People's Choice Awards: Favorite Movie Theme Song (Flashdance) [1983]

  • Academy Awards: Best Song in a Motion Picture, "Fame" [1981]

  • Grammy Awards: Nomination - Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female [1981]

  • Grammy Awards: Nomination - Best New Artist [1981]

  • Billboard Magazine: Top New Single Artist [1980]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Most Promising Female Vocalist [1980]

  • Cashbox Magazine: Top Female Vocalist [1980]


Studio albums

Year Album
1982 Anyone Can See
1983 What a Feelin''
1987 Carasmatic

Soundtrack albums

Year Album
1980 Fame Soundtrack
1983 Flashdance Soundtrack
1984 D.C. Cab Soundtrack
1985 City Heat Soundtrack
1989 All Dogs Go to Heaven Soundtrack
1991 China Cry Soundtrack
2007 Downtown: A Street Tale Soundtrack


Year Single Peak chart positions Album
1980 "Fame" 4 1 1 1 Fame (soundtrack)
"Out Here on My Own" 19 20 58
1981 "Anyone Can See" 42 Anyone Can See
"My Baby (He's Something Else)"
1983 "Flashdance... What a Feeling" 1 1 4 2 4 3 17 1 1 What a Feelin'
"Why Me" 13 7 86 17 5 4
"The Dream (Hold on to Your Dream)" 37 26
1984 "Breakdance" 8 13 88 n/a 20
"You Were Made for Me" 78 10
1987 "Girlfriends" Carasmatic
1988 "I Can Fly" Non-album song
1995 "Rhythm of My Life" Precarious 90's
1996 "You Need Me"
1997 "All My Heart"
2001 "What a Feeling" (with DJ BoBo) 11 3 2 Non-album song
2006 "Forever My Love" Gay Happening Vol. 12
2007 "Downtown" Downtown: A Street Tale (soundtrack)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Vocal appearances

  • The Me Nobody Knows- Original Cast Soundtrack (1970)
  • The Electric Company-Television Cast Soundtrack (1971)
  • John Blaire - We Belong Together (1977) Vocals
  • The Brecker Brothers - Détente (1980) Vocals (bckgr)
  • Bill Chinnock - Badlands (1978) Vocals
  • Gordon Grody - Exclusively Yours Vocals (bckgr)
  • Jimmy Maelen - Beats Workin' (1980) Vocals
  • Millington - Ladies on the Stage (1978) Vocals, Vocals (bckgr)
  • T. Life - That's Life (1978) Vocals (bckgr)
  • Original Soundtrack - Fame [Polydor Soundtrack] (1980) Vocals, Vocals (bckgr)
  • Various Artists - Billboard Top Hits: 1980 (1980)
  • Various Artists - Billboard Top Dance Hits: 1980(1980) Vocals
  • Stanley Turrentine-Home Again (1982)
  • Luther Vandross- Superstar (1983)
  • City Heat-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1984)
  • Certain Fury-Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1985)
  • Original Soundtrack - All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
  • China Cry- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1990)
  • Various Artists - Disco Fox, Vol. 4 (1997)
  • George Duke - Best of George Duke: The Elektra... (1997) Vocals
  • Oleta Adams - Very Best of Oleta Adams (1998) Vocals (bckgr)
  • Stormbringer- I Am Your Angel (2001)
  • DJ Bobo - Planet Colors (2001) Vocal Arrangement, Vocal Recording
  • DJ Bobo - Celebration (2002) Engineer, Vocal Arrangement
  • DJ Bobo - Celebration [Limited Edition] (2002) Engineer, Vocal Arrangement
  • Disco Brothers Forever My Love (2002)
  • Morning Musume Our Youth 1.2.3. (2002)
  • Various Artists - Gay Happening Vol. 12 (2006) Vocals
  • Downtown: A Street Tale- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [AJM Records] (2007)

Cara's songs appear on

  • Richard Clayderman - Cinema Passion, Vol. 1 / Remembering the Movies
  • DJ Bobo - Planet Colors
  • Anna Fegi - Every Step of the Way
  • Ilona Irvine - Sweet Memory
  • Starsound Orchestra - Best TV, Movie & Broadway Themes
  • Tokahits - Tokahits
  • Original Soundtrack - Flashdance [Original Soundtrack] / Full Monty [Original Soundtrack]
  • scarface: the world is yours


Television work

See also


  1. Billboard artist biography

External links

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