Irene Cara Escalera
Irene Cara Escalera was born on March 18, 1959 into a working-class family in New York City. Her mother Louise is Cuban-American and her father Gaspar Escalera is Puerto Rican and a retired saxophonist.
Cara inherited her talent from her father and became a trained singer, actress and dancer. Her breakout role as Coco Hernandez in the 1980 musical Fame catapulted her to stardom.
Irene Cara Escalera (March 18, 1959 – November 26, 2022)
Born in The Bronx, New York, Irene Cara Escalera was raised on a diet of music and theater, able to play the piano by ear at age 5. Her parents enrolled her in dance and acting lessons as well as taking her on tour with her father, who was a factory worker, and her mother, who was a movie theater usher from Cuba.
She had a knack for performing and began her career in Spanish-language television, singing and dancing. At 13, she became a regular on PBS’s educational program The Electric Company as a member of its band, the Short Circus.
In 1980, she starred in the high school musical Fame, playing Coco Hernandez, and recorded its groovy, disco-infused title song, “Fame,” which earned her two Grammy nominations as well as a Golden Globe award for best original song. Later, she lent her voice to the soundtrack of Flashdance and “Flashdance… What A Feeling” shot straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remains a hit nearly 40 years later.
She appeared in several TV movies, including Maya Angelou’s NBC Movie of the Week Sister, Sister; and for PBS, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (a biographical film about the civil rights leader). In 1982, she co-starred with Diahann Carroll and Rosalind Cash in Killing ’em Softly.
Born Irene Cara Escalera in the Bronx, she was destined for a career in entertainment. Her father, Gaspar Cara, was a factory worker from Puerto Rico; her mother, Louise, was a Cuban cinema usher.
As a young girl, she began taking dance lessons and learning to play piano by ear. She went on to study music and performance studies, making many on-stage and television appearances.
Her career was launched when she appeared in the 1980 musical film Fame. Her performance as Coco Hernandez, along with the movie’s title song (which reached number one in several countries), pushed her to international stardom.
She also wrote and co-wrote the hit song “Flashdance… What a Feeling” from the soundtrack of the same movie that earned her an Oscar for best original song. Her success with Fame and Flashdance paved the way for a generation of Black entertainers to reach mainstream crossover popularity in the ’80s.
Irene Cara’s rise to stardom in the ’80s was one of the biggest success stories in the history of Hollywood. She was the first artist to ever sing two songs from a single film at an Academy Awards ceremony.
One of the most iconic moments in cinema history, Jennifer Beals was just 17 when she made her film debut as a budding dancer who dreams of making it big. Her performance in the 1983 film Flashdance was so powerful that it was nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy.
A film about the art of dancing, Flashdance is based on the story of an aspiring dancer, Alex Owens (Beals), who struggles to overcome her fear and achieve her dream. Her friends help her with her confidence and she succeeds in auditioning for a prestigious ballet troupe.
The main theme of the film is love and dance, with the lead song “Flashdance – What a Feeling” winning the Oscar and spawning a musical and dance movement that defined the 1980s. The film was the first collaboration of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who later produced blockbusters such as Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Top Gun (1986).
The movie was an immediate success, earning $70 million in its opening weekend and a worldwide box office gross of over $200 million. Its soundtrack was composed by electronic pioneer Giorgio Moroder and included songs such as “Manhunt” and “Gloria”.
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