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Irene Cara
Irene Cara Escalera

(1959-03-18) March 18, 1959 (age 63)
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actress
Known forSparkle Williams – Sparkle
Coco Hernandez – Fame
(m. 1986; div. 1991)
Musical career
Years active1968–present[1][2]

Irene Cara Escalera (born March 18, 1959)[note 1] is an American singer and actress. Cara sang and co-wrote the song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (from the film Flashdance), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song[12] and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance[13] in 1984. Cara is also known for playing the role of Coco Hernandez in the 1980 film Fame, and for recording the film's title song "Fame". Prior to her success with Fame, Cara portrayed the title character Sparkle Williams in the original 1976 musical drama film Sparkle.

Early life

Cara was born in The Bronx, New York City, the youngest of five children.[8] Her father, Gaspar Escalera, a factory worker and retired saxophonist, was Puerto Rican,[8] and her mother, Louise, a movie theater usher, was Cuban-American. Cara has two sisters and two brothers. At the age of three, Irene Cara was one of five finalists for the "Little Miss America" pageant. She began to play the piano by ear, then studied music, acting, and dance seriously, first having dance lessons, aged five.[8] Her performing career started on Spanish-language television, professionally singing and dancing. She made early TV appearances on The Original Amateur Hour (singing in Spanish)[14] and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. In 1971–1972, she was a regular on PBS's educational program The Electric Company, as a member of the show's band, The Short Circus.[8] As a child, Cara recorded a Latin-market Spanish-language record and an English Christmas album. She appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington that featured Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr., and Roberta Flack.[15]


Boggs describes Cara as a "perfectionist" who works on a song until absolutely satisfied with it.[2]


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 Raúl Juliá. Cara was the original Daisy Allen on the 1970s 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.

Fame (1980) and international acclaim

The 1980 hit film Fame, directed by Alan Parker, catapulted Irene Cara to stardom. Cara was originally cast as a dancer, but when producers David Da Silva and Alan Marshall and screenwriter Christopher Gore 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 other single, "Out Here on My Own". These songs helped make the film's soundtrack a chart-topping, multi-platinum album. Further history was made at the Academy Awards that year: it was the first time two songs from the same film were nominated in the same category and both sung by the same artist. Thus, Cara had the opportunity to be one of the few singers to perform more than one song at the Oscar ceremony; "Fame," written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, won the award that year. Cara earned Grammy nominations in 1980 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical. Billboard named her Top New Single Artist, while Cashbox Magazine awarded her both Most Promising Female Vocalist and Top Female Vocalist. Asked by Fame TV series' producers to reprise her role as Coco Hernandez, she declined so as to focus her attention on her recording career. Erica Gimpel assumed the role.

Post-Fame 1980–1999

Cara was 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 Keenen 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, Tyrone, played by Charlie Barnett, is an obsessed Cara fan who decorated his Checker Cab as a shrine to her. Her contribution to the film's soundtrack, "The Dream (Hold on To Your Dream)" played over the closing credits of the film, and was a minor hit, peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1984.

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. In addition to her music and film work, Cara also continued to perform in live theater 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 American Civil War orphans.

In 1983, Cara reached the peak[16] 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 another artist who worked with Moroder, Donna Summer.[17] But the collaboration paid off and became a hit in several countries, attracting several awards 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, and American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year. Cara's Oscar win made her the first hispanic-black woman to win an Oscar in a category other than an acting category, as well as the second to be nominated outside an acting category. "Flashdance..." was re-recorded by Cara twice: in 1997 as a track in the original soundtrack for the British film The Full Monty; the second time in 2002, as a duet with Swiss artist DJ BoBo.

In 1984, she was in the comedic thriller City Heat, co-starring with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds and singing the standards "Embraceable You" and "Get Happy". She also co-wrote the theme song "City Heat", which was sung by the jazz vocalist Joe Williams. In May of that year, she scored her final Top 40 hit with "Breakdance" going to No. 8. The follow up, "You Were Made for Me" reached No. 78 that summer but she did not appear on the Hot 100 again. In 1985, Cara co-starred with Tatum O'Neal in Certain Fury, about two troubled young women who flee a court hearing and are mistaken for killers. 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 a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar opposite Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson and Dennis DeYoung.

Along with her career in acting and hit singles, Cara released several albums: 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 charity supergroup Hermanos in the song "Cantaré, cantarás", in which she sang a solo segment with the Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo.

Cara toured Europe and Asia throughout the 1990s, achieving several modest dance hits on European charts, but no US chart hits. She released a compilation of Eurodance singles in the mid to late 1990s entitled Precarious 90's.

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

21st century

In March 2004, Cara received two honors with an 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 Melbourne, Cara performed "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" as an opener to the pre-match entertainment.[18]

In 2006, Cara contributed a dance single, titled "Forever My Love", to the compilation album titled Gay Happening Vol. 12.

As of 2016, Cara had residences in both New Port Richey, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico. She works with her band Hot Caramel, which she formed in 1999.[19] Their album called Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel was released on April 4, 2011. Cara appeared in season 2 of CMT's reality show Gone Country,.

Personal life

Cara married stuntman and film director Conrad Palmisano in Los Angeles, California, in April 1986[20] and they divorced in 1991.[21]


Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label

1982 Anyone Can See 76 39 48 Network
1983 What a Feelin' 77 45 49 83 Network/Geffen
1987 Carasmatic Elektra
2011 Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel CPM
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications Album


1980 "Fame" 4 1 3 42 1 1 1 1 Fame
"Hot Lunch Jam"
"Out Here on My Own" 19 20 41 58
1982 "Anyone Can See" 42 Anyone Can See
"My Baby (He's Something Else)"
1983 "Flashdance... What a Feeling" 1 2 1 4 1 1 2 17 1 2 Flashdance / What a Feelin'
"Why Me?" 13 41 7 5 23 24 86 What a Feelin'
"The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)" 37 65 26 84 D.C. Cab / What a Feelin'
1984 "Breakdance" 8 23 13 19 10 25 88 What a Feelin'
"You Were Made for Me" 78 83 10
1987 "Girlfriends" Carasmatic
2001 "What a Feeling" (with DJ BoBo) Planet Colors
2004 "Downtown" Downtown: A Street Tale
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Soundtrack appearances

Year Album Track(s)
1971 The Me Nobody Knows "Black"
1980 Fame "Fame", "Out Here on My Own", "Hot Lunch Jam", "I Sing the Body Electric"
1982 Killing 'em Softly "City Nights"
1983 Flashdance "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
1983 D.C. Cab "The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)"
1984 Going Bananas "Going Bananas" (TV series theme song)
1984 City Heat "Embraceable You", "Get Happy"
1985 Certain Fury "Certain Fury"
1986 Busted Up "Busted Up", "Dying For Your Love", "I Can't Help Feeling Empty", "She Works Hard For Her Money"
1986 The Longshot "The Long Shot"
1989 All Dogs Go to Heaven "Love Survives" (with Freddie Jackson)
1990 Happily Ever After "Love is the Reason"
1990 Caged in Paradiso "Paradiso"
1990 China Cry "No One But You"
1992 The Magic Voyage "We'll Always Be Together"
1997 The Full Monty "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (re-recording)
2004 Downtown: A Street Tale "Downtown"

Vocal appearances on other albums

Stage acting



Year Title Role Note
1970–71 Love of Life Daisy Allen Daytime drama
1971–72 The Electric Company Iris Band member of the Short Circus
1976 Kojak Amy Episode: "A Hair-Trigger Away"
1977 What's Happening!! Maria Episode: "Rerun Gets Married"
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Bertha Palmer Haley Miniseries (3 episodes)
1980 Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones Alice Jefferson Movie
1981 Irene Irene Cannon Sitcom pilot
1983 For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story Myrlie Evers American Playhouse movie
1988 Bustin' Loose Herself Episode: "What's a Nice Girl Like You...?"
1991 Gabriel's Fire Celine Bird Episode: "Birds Gotta Fly"
1992 Hearts Are Wild Dorah Episode 1.8


Year Title Role Note
1975 Aaron Loves Angela Angela
1976 Sparkle Sparkle Williams
1976 Apple Pie Dancer
1980 Fame Coco Hernandez
1982 Killing 'em Softly Jane
1982 Sister, Sister Sissy Lovejoy
1983 D.C. Cab Herself
1984 City Heat Ginny Lee
1985 Certain Fury Tracy
1986 Busted Up Simone Bird
1989 Caged in Paradiso Eva
1990 Happily Ever After Snow White Voice role
1992 Beauty and the Beast Beauty Voice role
1992 The Magic Voyage Marilyn Voice role
1994 The Jungle King Leonette Voice role; direct-to-video
1995 Beyond Awareness to Action: Ending Abuse of Women Herself/host Documentary short
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Melody Voice role; direct-to-video
2004 Downtown: A Street Tale Neighbor Cameo

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1980 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Fame Nominated
1983 Best Original Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (shared with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey) Won
Academy Awards Best Original Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (shared with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey) Won
1984 Grammy Awards Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or A Television Special Flashdance: Original Soundtrack
(shared with other songwriters)
Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance "Flashdance... What a Feeling" Won

See also


  1. ^ Cara's year of birth is disputed. The majority of sources claim 1959,[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] one claims 1962[9] and Cara herself implied she was born in 1961 by claiming she turned 59 years old via a 2020 tweet,[10] despite stating she was 24 in a 1983 interview with Dick Clark, which would have indicated 1959 as her year of birth.[1] As of May 22, 2021, a year after her tweet, her Twitter profile says that she was born a year later in 1962.[11]


  1. ^ a b Dick Clark Interviews Irene Cara, American Bandstand, 1983.Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "Irene Cara:A Show Biz Veteran at Age 22". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. XXXVI (9): 88. July 1981. ISSN 0012-9011.
  3. ^ Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends, By Scott L. Baugh (Irene Cara 1959-).Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  4. ^ Bob McCann, Encyclopedia of Hispanic American Actresses in Film and Television, McFarland & Company, 2010, ISBN 978-0-7864-3790-0, p. 67.
  5. ^ Your Birthday, Your Card, By Robert Lee Camp (Irene Cara 3/18/1959).Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  6. ^ Stange, Ellen Silver (March 10, 2016). New York State of Fame. Page Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-1-68289-026-4 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Hellmann, Paul T. (2009). Historical Gazetteer of the United States. ISBN 978-1-135-94859-7. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e Sheff, David (November 10, 1980). "After 16 Years in Showbiz, Irene Cara, 21, Gets Her Diploma in Movies with Fame". People. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  9. ^ Hip Hop around the World: An Encyclopedia (2 volumes), edited by Melissa Ursula Dawn Goldsmith, Anthony J. Fonseca.Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  10. ^ "@Irene_Cara: Many thanks for the birthday wishes. Despite all the incorrect info on Wikipedia ( there is no T anywhere in my name and I'm 59 today) I wish you all to be safe and healthy. God Bless !". Twitter. March 18, 2020.
  11. ^ "Irene Cara". Twitter. March 18, 2020.
  12. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards | 1984". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  13. ^ "Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance – Grammys Best Female Pop Vocal Performance".
  14. ^ Irene Cara singing "Ola Ola Ola" on Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour"
  15. ^ "Irene Cara Bio" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  16. ^ "Chart History Irene Cara". Billboard. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  17. ^ "NewsBank InfoWeb".
  18. ^ Gibson, Jano (September 30, 2006). "Last ditch bid for tickets". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved November 14, 2021.
  19. ^ "Ready for an Encore". People. July 9, 2001. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  20. ^ "Oscar-winning singer-actress Irene Cara married veteran stuntman Conrad Palmisano". United Press International. April 14, 1986. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  21. ^ McCann, Bob (December 8, 2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and television. McFarland. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7864-5804-2. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  22. ^ a b c d e f "US Charts > Irene Cara". Billboard. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  23. ^ a b David Kent (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970–1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, St. Ives, N.S.W. p. 54. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  24. ^ a b "CAN Charts > Irene Cara". RPM. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  25. ^ a b "NLD Charts > Irene Cara". MegaCharts. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  26. ^ "IRE Charts Search > Irene Cara". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  27. ^ "NZ Charts > Irene Cara". Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  28. ^ "UK Charts > Irene Cara". Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  29. ^ a b "Canadian    certifications – Irene Cara". Music Canada. Retrieved January 6, 2022.
  30. ^ a b "British    certifications – Irene Cara". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved January 6, 2022. Type Irene Cara in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  31. ^ "Dutch    certifications – Irene Cara" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved January 6, 2022. Enter Irene Cara in the "Artiest of titel" box.
  32. ^ "American    certifications – Irene Cara". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved January 6, 2022.

External links

This page was last edited on 26 July 2022, at 06:12
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