Writer of all-time classics like "Manhã de Carnaval" and "Samba de Orfeu" (both with Luís Bonfá for Marcel Camus' film Orfeu do Carnaval, which launched the bossa nova internationally), "Suas Mãos" (with Pernambuco), "Ninguém Me Ama," and "Quando Tu Passas por Mim" (with Vinícius de Moraes), Antônio Maria is one of the biggest proponents of the dramatic, suffering style known as fossa or dor-de-cotovelo. He took piano classes in his childhood. At 13 he became a DJ at Rádio Clube Pernambuco. In 1940, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he shared a room with his old friend the journalist Fernando Lobo and the future Chacrinha Abelardo Barbosa. He worked as a sportscaster of Rádio Ipanema, but was fired for his innovative style. Writing his early composition amidst the Bohemian friends of Rio in that period, he had to return to Recife due to his economic hardships.
In 1948, he returned to Rio, becoming the artistic director of Rádio Tupi and TV Tupi. He worked in the first TV show broadcast in Brazil in 1951. He also wrote daily chronicles in newspapers for over 15 years. In 1951, his "Frevo Número Um do Recife" was recorded by Trio de Ouro; "Frevo Número Dois do Recife" was recorded by Luís Bandeira and Severino Araújo e sua Orquestra. In the same year, his samba "Querer Bem" (with Fernando Lobo) was recorded by Aracy de Almeida. In the next year, he moved to Rádio Mayrink Veiga, receiving the biggest salary of Brazilian radio in those times.
His first hit was in 1952 with the samba-acalanto "Menino Grande" and the samba-canção "Ninguém Me Ama" (with Fernando Lobo), both recorded by Nora Ney. At the same time, he wrote the samba "Quando Tu Passas Por Mim" (recorded by Aracy de Almeida and Dóris Monteiro) and "Dobrado de Amor a São Paulo" (recorded by Aracy de Almeida) with Vinícius de Moraes. In 1953, he wrote the sambas "Não Fiz Nada," "Não Vá Embora" (both recorded by Zé da Zilda), and "Meu Contrabaixo" (recorded by Aracy de Almeida) with Zé da Zilda. With Ismael Neto (Os Cariocas), he wrote "Valsa de uma Cidade" in 1954 and, among others, "Canção da Volta," which launched Dolores Durán as a singer. Maria also wrote "Canção Para Ninar Gente Grande" with Evaldo Gouveia.