Sérgio Ricardo is a fundamental figure in Brazilian history, not only musical. As a musician, composer, movie maker and writer he deeply influenced Brazilian culture.
At eight, he started his piano studies at the local conservatory, soon beginning to play around. At 17, he moved to São Vicente, SP, where he did several jobs at Rádio Cultura. Following a short stint as a pianist at the Recreinho Prainha nightclub in the same city, in 1952, he moved to Rio to work at Rádio Vera Cruz. When Tom Jobim left his gig at a Posto 5 Copacabana nightclub to work as an arranger for Continental, Ricardo subbed for him and he became friends with Jobim, João Gilberto, and Johnny Alf. As a pianist during a time where there was a frenetic need for that professional, he worked everyday in the best nightclubs of Rio, São Paulo, and Santos. He left his regular studies and made great efforts to enroll at the Escola Nacional de Música for two years and two more years of harmony and counterpoint with a private teacher; both courses were abandoned incomplete. Having composed a good deal of songs, he also became a singer. Still, as João Lutfi, he became one of the most-requested crooners of that time. In 1957, he recorded his first 78 rpm through RGE, soon followed by another. It was when Maysa heard one of his own compositions and went after him, recording "Buquê de Isabel" on one of her first albums. Accompanying a singer on a TV Tupi show, he was invited to join the station as a soap opera actor, already known as Sérgio Ricardo. He continued to work both in music at the Grande Teatro Tupi, Rio and on TV on the shows TV de Vanguarda, São Paulo, and Balada, TV Continental, Rio.
Part of the bossa nova since its inception in 1958, Ricardo was one of the first to have an LP recorded in the new style with A Bossa Romântica de Sérgio Ricardo (Odeon). Soon after, his deep social concerns led him to write "Zelão," which is a milestone in his departure from the movement. It was when he made his first short subject, O Menino da Calça Branca (1961), that put him inside the movement known as "cinema novo," politic/esthetic manifesto that took over the world. For that movie, he received the Prêmio Governador do Estado da Guanabara, 1963, and the Prêmio Berimbau de Prata (I Festival de Cinema da Bahia), 1962. In the next year, he was invited by the Brazilian diplomatic service, Itamarati, to represent Brazil in the U.S. at the San Francisco Cinema Festival, and the movie was classified in second place.
On November 21, 1962, he performed at the historic Bossa Nova Festival at Carnegie Hall. He stayed for eight months in New York, finding a producer for O Menino de Calça Branca and playing for a living in nightclubs such as the Village Vanguard. He left New York for the French Rivière, to where he had been invited for a season as a singer/composer. In 1963, he composed, over Gláuber Rocha's lyrics, the soundtrack for Rocha's Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, one of the most important Brazilian films of all time. The soundtrack was released on LP that same year, together with Ricardo's own Um Senhor Talento (Elenco). In 1964, he was invited again by Itamarati to represent Brazil at the festivals of Lebanon and Genova with his movie Esse Mundo é Meu, which was exhibited in those countries and was considered by the specialized French magazine Cahiers du Cinema (June/July 1964) as one of the most important films of that year, also receiving the Best Movie award at the Festival de Marília, São Paulo, 1965. During the former, he was invited by the Lebanese government to direct the movie Taire in Caire. In May, he returned to São Paulo and opened his solo show, Esse Mundo é Meu, which launched singer/composer Toquinho. Ricardo also wrote the orchestration for the soundtrack to Gláuber Rocha's Terra em Transe, another fundamental piece in the director's film career, as well as the music for the play O Coronel de Macambira, by Joaquim Cardoso, later released on the Philips LP A Grande Música de Sérgio Ricardo. At the Festival Fluminense, he won second place with "Romana." At TV Record's II FMPB in 1966, he protagonized the celebrated incident when, at the finals, he broke his violão and threw it toward the audience, having his song eliminated. The fact is that the beautiful melody was of difficult assimilation and it made the public prefer "A Banda" (Chico Buarque) and other easier songs. His desperate yelling "Vocês não estão entendendo nada..." ("you are understanding squat") makes one imagine that he was trying to reason with the audience in terms that what was important were the lyrics, in which was expressed a subtle awareness message: Beto Bom de Bola was a fictitious soccer player who won the bi-championship for Brazil in a tough game, but soon became forgotten, lonely, and broke. The lyrics end with "O mal também tem cura" ("the evil also has a cure"), which completes a clear picture of criticism directed against the military dictatorship.
Other festivals in which he participated include Bienal do Samba (with "Luandaluar"), Festival da TV Excelsior de São Paulo ("Girassol"), Festival Internacional da Canção ("Canto do Amor Armado," in which he was one of ten finalists), and the IV FMPB, having "Dia da Graça" winning fifth place. In January 1968, he opened another show in Rio with Chico de Assis, Sérgio Ricardo e a Praça do Povo. From 1968 to 1970, he worked on his Juliana do amor perdido and wrote the soundtrack to the movie O Auto da Compadecida (1969), based on the fundamental play by Ariano Suassuna. Believing in a full participation of the public in the artistic production, he abandoned the theaters and began to tour upcountry Brazil extensively, in pocket acts where he could be close to audiences. He then recorded the LP Arrebentação for the small label Equipe, which was released in 1971 and was followed by a second edition in 1972. The small label bellied up soon afterwards and the LP remained widely unknown, disputed by connoisseurs at high prices. His album from 1973, Sérgio Ricardo (Continental), brought the famous cover by Caulos, with a border over his mouth. One of its songs, "Canto Americano," had had its lyrics awarded first place at the Athens Festival in Greece, 1968. In 1974, he finished his work for his movie A Noite do Espantalho, where he did almost everything. The movie was awarded by the Instituto Nacional do Cinema, won the Coruja de Ouro prize for his brother's photography, and for Ricardo's soundtrack. It was also awarded as Best Film, Best Photography, Best Direction, and Best Male Character at the I Festival de Cinema Brasileiro de Belém (1974) and was acknowledged as one of the 15 best films of the year by the Cinema Academy of Hollywood and was awarded at the Cannes and New York festivals (the award is the very appointment for exhibition). He took advantage of the visibility proportioned by the success and embarked on a tour where he sang the songs (the soundtrack was also released on LP), presented the film, and debated with the audience. In 1975, he co-founded SOMBRÁS, a society created to represent the interest of musicians in dealing with artistic rights collecting agencies. In 1976, he was invited by Aluísio de Oliveira to record on the RCA series Música Popular Brasileira Espetacular. With Aluísio's production, he also recorded Participação. Soon, he toured the country's university circuit with the show Ponto de Partida. In 1977, he recorded for Marcus Pereira. In 1980, he performed at the Festival de Varadero, Cuba, and recorded an LP with Geraldo Vandré. In 1983, his music and arrangements for Carlos Drummond de Andrade's Estória de João-Joana were recorded by the Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro. In 1991, he released his book Quem Quebrou meu Violão (Record, Rio de Janeiro), and São Paulo's Image and Sound Museum organized a week devoted to him that year. In 1994, he recorded a live album in Lisbon, Portugal. His soundtrack for the movie O Lado Certo da Vida Errada won the Prêmio Candango at the Festival de Brasília (DF). He also composed the soundtrack for the TV series Zumbi dos Palmares, and in 1997, for the soap opera Mandacaru.