Remembering the “Fame” and “Flashdance…What A Feeling” singer Irene Cara 

She became popular in 1980 as Coco Hernandez on the movie “Fame”

Remembering the “Fame” and “Flashdance…What A Feeling” singer Irene Cara

Irene Cara Escalera was born on March 18, 1959, in New York City. Her father was Afro-Puerto Rican and her mother Cuban-American. 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. She made early TV appearances at Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. In 1971–72, aged 13. Also during the 1970’s, she appeared in on-and off-Broadway theatrical shows. Her big break came in 1980 with the hit movie “Fame” directed by Alan Parker. 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 the title song “Fame” which became a worldwide hit and a 1980’s classic. She also sang the film’s other single, “Out Here on My Own.” 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. When she was asked later to reprise her role as Coco Hernandez on the “Fame” TV series, she declined to focus her attention on her recording career and was replaced in the series by Erica Gimpel. 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 another artist who worked with Moroder, Donna Summer. But the collaboration paid off and became a hit in several countries, garnering 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, and American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year. But despite all the success she made during the early 1980’s, her popularity declined as a singer and actress, though remaining active in both fields. Today, Irene Cara still remains mostly remembered for the hit songs “Fame” and “Flashdance…What A Feeling”, but kept her career going throughout the years until her death on November 25, 2022 at age 63.

Look back at Irene Cara performing her hit song “Fame” as the character Coco Hernandez in 1980

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