The dramatic history of the great and distinguished Brazilian popular music composer Assis Valente begins with him being kidnapped at six years of age from his parents, by a guy called Laurindo, who thought he'd be better in other hands, to work as a semi-slave for family Canna Brasil in Alagoinhas, BA. Never again he would see his parents or brothers. He worked all day long and was forced to study at night. When the Canna Brasil moved to Salvador BA, Assis Valente went with them. But when they moved to Rio, Assis continued to live there, getting a job as flask-washer at the pharmacy of Hospital Santa Isabel. The pharmaceutic João Batista wanted to adopt him, then sent him for a full health check-up with another Canna Brasil, Dr. João Canna Brasil, director of Maternidade da Bahia, who would employ Assis Valente in the hospital's pharmacy, and matriculate him at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios, where he'd learn sculpture and drawing. A few later, a priest called Tolentino decided to take him to take care of a pharmacy in an inland city. The owners of the other pharmacies, outraged by the fact that a boy would take charge of this enormous responsibility, decided to discredit him through sending him a prescription of a venomous potion. Assis not only refused to prepare the prescription, but demanded the presence of the practitioner who'd written it. In a few instants came the other pharmaceutics together with father Tolentino, who awarded his judicious procedure with a new job, as directing board secretary for the Hospital Bonfim. At that time, Assis Valente already was extremely fond of declaiming poetry. His preferred poets were Guerra Junqueiro and Castro Alves, both deeply engaged in social critic, mainly against slavery. In a bazaar in benefit of Hospital Bonfim, he declaimed particularly aggressive anti-clergy verses by Guerra Junqueiro, "Saltimbancos" ("Mountebanks"), perhaps out of pure fun, as Assis always was a facetious character, but never was involved with political concerns. He barely escaped from being beaten, but lost his job and the admiration of the city. In deep sad and despair, he joined the Circo Brasileiro circus to get out of that town as soon as possible. Traveling from town to town, he got his artistic education in the circus environment, singing and declaiming at the performances. This lasted one year, when he returned to Salvador to resume his studies on drawing and sculpture, beginning to learn dental prothesis. Getting a job as drawer, he was even awarded in a contest, but he soon would depart to Rio, in 1927. Arriving in Rio, he'd work as a freelance drawer for magazines Shimmy and Fon-Fon. At that time, two important names of the show business would be greatly influential over him: Heitor dos Prazeres and Carmem Miranda. He'd met Heitor in 1932, who encouraged him to write. So he did. At that same year, singer Araci Cortes would record for Columbia "Tem francesa no morro," an ironic song satirizing the fashion of gallicisms in colloquial language. With this auspicious and irreverent debut in the show business, in the voice of an established singer, Assis was encouraged to try an acquaintance with a singer he admired so much, and perhaps secretly loved: Carmem Miranda. At first, he asked for violão (acoustic guitar) lessons to Carmem' discoverer, Josué de Barros, thinking he was Carmem' father. That didn't work, and he came to the conclusion that he should try to attract her attention through a samba-exaltação (style of samba which boastfully proclaims some people's or place's wonders) about Bahia. So he wrote "Etc.." Carmem liked the song and recorded it. It would be the beginning of a fertile association. During the decade of 1930 through the initial years of the 40's, Carmem and sister Aurora Miranda would make enormous success in the radio interpreting compositions by Assis Valente. Assis Valente's compositional style was based in a chronicle of the city of Rio de Janeiro in those times of fast modernization. Through the picturesque facets he always aimed to expose the authentic Brazilian aspects.
Encouraged by the deed of being recorded by his idol, he composed "Good-bye, boy," a satire, this time, to the Anglicism fashion. In that same year of 1932, a full-speed Assis Valente would write several other sambas, between them "Pra lá de boa" and "Oi Maria." But he continued to work in his dental prothesis, and acquired a good reputation in this sector as well.
1933 would be a prolific year for him. Wrote "Tão grande e tão bobo," "É duro de se crer," "Levante o dedo," among several others. "Para onde irá o Brasil?" ("To where is Brazil heading?") caused his arrest. A zealous lady saw the title in the paper carried by him in the streets, and thought it was subversive propaganda. Calling the police, he was taken to the police station, where he explained himself, was freed and got a safe-conduct affixed at the sheet music's face.
His Christmas song "Boas Festas," written out of deep nostalgia during 1932's Christmas, was recorded by Carlos Galhardo in 1933, 1941 and 1956. It became the unofficial Brazil's Christmas anthem and brought to Valente the title of having created the genre in Brazil. It was such a big hit that RCA Victor had to exclude it from the catalog in 1938 because the matrix was worn out. The jumpy "Pão de Açúcar" (with music by Artur Costa) would follow, being recorded again by Galhardo, with the accompaniment by the Diabos do Céu, the group of Pixinguinha, which already had accompanied Galhardo in the recording of Assis Valente's compositions "É duro de se crer" and "Para onde irá o Brasil?."
He would be also a founder of the genre of music played in the "festas juninas", pagan parties with religious inspiration that occurs in Brazil during months June and July. His first creation in this genre, still today vivid in Brazilian ears, was "Cai, cai, balão," recorded by Chico Alves and Aurora Miranda in 1933 for Odeon. Soon followed "Acorda São João" (1934), "Mais um balão" and "Olhando o céu todo enfeitado" (1935).
But the year of 1934 would bring even more success to Assis Valente. Working in his dental practice, he always found time to compose every day. Among others, in that year he would come up with "Para que amar," "Sinos da Penha," "Gosto mais do outro lado" and "Recadinho de Papai Noel." Carmem Miranda recorded "Tão grande, tão bobo" and "Té Já." But his major hit in 1934 was the samba exaltação "Minha embaixada chegou." Recorded by Carmem Miranda with the Grupo do Canhoto (flute, two violões, cavaquinho, drums, tambourine, clarinet) and a three-voice choir, in October 1934 for RCA Victor, "Minha embaixada chegou" would be the most representative work in Assis Valente's career. In 1935 he composed "Mangueira" (with Zequinha Reis) and the samba "Maria Boa," which, recorded by the Bando da Lua for Victor of Argentina, was a big hit in 1936. In 1937 composed the samba that, out of being so widely known, became his trademark: "Camisa listada." It was recorded by the Irmãs Pagãs, but was only released in Carmem Miranda's interpretation for Odeon, becoming an astounding success from the first moment.
Meanwhile, he was also enjoying popularity as a performer, leading the Bando Carioca and the Grupo 7, in frequent performances in the most important Carioca's radio stations. With his versatility and motivation at full steam, he'd compose with an interval of a couple of months so diverse songs as "Tristeza" ("Sadness") and "Alegria" ("Happiness"), which was recorded by Orlando Silva. He'd compose also in that year "Minha intenção" (with Nelson Petersen), "Deixa o passado," "A folia já chegou," "Bola preta" and "...E o mundo não se acabou," recorded next year by Carmem Miranda, together with "Uva de caminhão."
1939 was a year when he decreased the rhythm of his compositional impetus, writing only two songs: "Um jarro d'água" and "Pecado mortal," which hadn't much applause. It was when his dear Carmem Miranda and the Bando da Lua would leave Brazil for the USA. When she came back in 1940, he did his best to write two sambas she couldn't refuse: "Recenseamento," along with "Brasil pandeiro." "Brasil pandeiro" was rejected by Carmem, an enormous frustration for Valente, who'd be bitter from then on about her. It was recorded by the Anjos do Inferno in 1940, being included in the soundtrack of the movie Céu azul, by J. Rui, and a permanent hit in several recordings by various interpreters, including 70's Os Novos Baianos and, more recently, Baby do Brasil, former Baby Consuelo. In that same year, Carmem would record the last of the 24 songs written for her by Assis Valente: "Recenseamento."
Quickly forgotten by the voracious entertainment industry, Assis became increasingly depressed, and attempted to suicide throwing himself from the Corcovado hill. But he'd get stuck in a tree, from where he'd be saved by the firemen. Trying to overcome depression, wrote the samba "Fez bobagem," recorded with good repercussion by Araci de Almeida. He continued to compose, but his songs were turned down by all those who had profited from his previous works. A few years later, attempted suicide again, cutting his wrists. Failing again, he'd survive to the final attempt: in March 10, 1958, he drank a bottle of poison, dying soon afterwards.
Other singers besides Carmem recorded his compositions. Moreira da Silva, who would become famous for extending the breaks in the samba-de-breque, recorded in 1933 "Olha à direita," "Abre a boca e fecha os olhos," "Levante o dedo," all for RCA Victor. Carlos Galhardo was an avid client. Other important singers who recorded his songs: Aurora Miranda, Almirante, Francisco Alves, Sônia Carvalho, Mário Reis, Orlando Silva, Araci de Almeida, O Bando da Lua and As Irmãs Pagãs (Elvira and Rosina). Singers from a newer generation, like Maria Betânia, Nara Leão and Marília Medalha brought Assis Valente to the air waves again. But even if most of his work is not at the Top Ten right now, he'd be remembered forever in that faithful corner of the Brazilian soul, that until today sings his immortal songs without being reminded about who is their author.