Araci Cortes is one of the most important artists of the Brazilian popular music and theater of her time. As a highly popular actress of musical revues, she launched composers of the weight of Ary Barroso, Noel Rosa, Zé da Zilda, Benedito Lacerda, Assis Valente, Lamartine Babo, and João de Barro. Cortes had more hits than any other actress in her time, and she also was responsible for the launching of the samba-canção through the live performance and recording of the seminal "Iaiá" (Henrique Vogeler/Luís Peixoto). Among the many all-time classics launched by her, "Jura!" (Sinhô), "Vamos Deixar de Intimidade," "Aquarela do Brasil," "No Rancho Fundo" (Ary Barroso), "Com Que Roupa," "Eu Vou Pra Vila," "Gago Apaixonado" (Noel Rosa), "Tem Francesa no Morro" (Assis Valente), "Canção Pra Inglês Ver," "Os Rouxinóis," "Lua Cor de Prata" (Lamartine Babo), "Cidade Maravilhosa" (André Filho), and "Na Pavuna" (Almirante) can be mentioned . Cortes would also be the star of the first European tour by a Brazilian revue company in 1933.
Her first professional performance was at the Circo Democrata in 1920. In the next year, she performed with the Oito Batutas in a show together with Patrício Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro. She debuted at the revue theater in the last day of that year in the same theater that would be synonymous with the genre, the Teatro Recreio (Rio). In that period, the audience for that kind of spectacle wasn't big and the companies had to have an enormous repertory and short seasons for each, so Cortes opened, already having to master a wide variety of genres from the burletta to the revue. Her first assignment was in the revue Nós Pelas Costas (J. Praxedes), with music by Sá Pereira, but on February 10, 1922, she was performing her third revue, Sai da Raia, with music by Sinhô (and Sá Pereira). It was her first contact with the famous composer who would be the author of one of her biggest hits as an interpreter of popular music, "Jura!" In the revue Sonho de Ópio, opened on November 13, 1923, Cortes worked with the novice Francisco Alves. In the same revue, she would meet Luís Peixoto, whose presence in Cortes' career would be influential.
At that time, Cortes had already established herself as a singer, dancer, and actress of considerable presence. She was not a pioneer of the samba in the music theater (that honor is due to Otília Amorim), but she worked to impose the Brazilian genre in the revue theater, which was very much French-influenced in her days. In September 28, 1928, she opened the revue Microlândia, by Marques Porto/Luís Peixoto/Afonso de Carvalho with music by Rada and Sinhô. At that time, Sinhô was in the peak of his success. From 1919 to 1930 Sinhô wrote music for 42 plays and his name was always an important asset for the success of them. In Microlândia, Cortes launched "Jura!," Sinhô's most famous samba. In that time, Cortes had to do three encores of that song each day. Later she would be appointed by Sinhô as the best interpreter of his music -- which was quite a compliment, considering that the pioneer usually didn't like women to interpret his works, which had a very masculine expression. Cortes was one of the only four female to interpret Sinhô's work (along with Carmen Miranda, Ita Cayuby, and Iolanda Osório), and the very first one to record it -- beginning with "Jura!," still in 1928 (at Parlophon), followed by "Mal de Amor," two years later (at Brunswick).
Still in the same year, Cortes would have her name associated with the birth of the samba-canção. On August 17, 1928, Dulce de Almeida interpreted "Linda Flor" (Henrique Vogeler/Cândido Costa) in J.G. Traversa's comedy A Verdade Ao Meio-Dia. But her innocent interpretation for the naïve lyrics went unnoticed and the play closed after two weeks. Aware of the importance of his music and determined to make it live, Vogeler urged Vicente Celestino to record it, which he did in an Odeon record in which for the first time ever appears the expression samba-canção Brasileiro (Brazilian samba-canção). But Celestino's operatic singing still deprived the piece of the rhythmic nature of the samba-canção that Vogeler was trying to introduce as a contrast to the song's classic melody. By the end of that year, Francisco Alves recorded the same music with the lyrics by Freire Júnior, through Parlophon. But it still hadn't the feel Vogeler was looking for. In December 1928, Luís Peixoto, who was looking for a musical piece for his Miss Brasil revue (written with Marques Porto), asked Vogeler if he had any suggestions. Vogeler sat at the piano and showed his music the way he felt it. Right on the spot, Peixoto took a sheet of paper and wrote the new lyrics of the song that would be interpreted by Cortes in Miss Brasil on December 20. In her dainty, romantic rendition, the song reached immediate success, being recorded by Cortes as "Iaiá" after a few days and later as "Ai Ioiô." The song was one of the most popular in the Carnival of 1929 and was re-recorded many times, becoming a classic. Soon after having launched the samba-canção, Cortes presented a new composer who was looking for his break -- and he got it: Ary Barroso. Opening the revue Laranja da China (Olegário Mariano/Luís Peixoto) on April 25, 1929, Cortes sang two sambas by Barroso, "Vou À Penha" and, the one which became a huge hit transforming the novice composer in an overnight success, "Vamos Deixar de Intimidade." On June 7, Cortes opened the play Vamos Deixar de Intimidade (Olegário Mariano/Humberto de Campos), launching Barroso's "Tu Qué Tomá Meu Home" (with Mariano's lyrics); she would record this song twice, through Parlophon and Odeon. Cortes would also launch in revues and then record several other songs by Barroso, like "Samba da Gelatina," "Sapateando" (recorded in 1930 through Odeon, registers Cortes as the author), "Graça de Araci" (dedicated to the singer), and many others. The very "Aquarela do Brasil" was launched by Cortes in the revue Entra na Faixa and then recorded by Francisco Alves. She also was the first to present "No Rancho Fundo" in É Do Outro Mundo! (1930), still with J. Carlos' lyrics and the title "Na Grota Funda." The song had lyrics by Lamartine Babo being recorded by Elisinha Coelho in 1931 through Victor, being the song that had the biggest number of recordings in Babo's production. Also, it was Cortes who launched Barroso's classics "Boneca de Pixe" in Dá no Couro (1930) and "Tu" in Morangos Com Creme (1932). Other soon-to-be-famous authors launched by Cortes were Noel Rosa, Assis Valente, Lamartine Babo, and João de Barro. Rosa had 21 of his songs launched by Cortes in the revue Café Com Música (1931), including "Com Que Roupa," "Eu Vou Pra Vila," "Queixume" (recorded as "Meu Sofrer"), "Gago Apaixonado," and "Dona Araci." In Angu de Caroço (1932), Cortes and Sílvio Caldas launched "Mulato Bamba." Assis Valente had his "Tem Francesa no Morro" recorded by Cortes, which was his passport to stardom. Babo's "Violão" or "Gemer Num Violão" was presented in Comigo É Na Madeira and "Aí...Hein?" (with Paulo Valença) debuted in Traz a Nota (1933). Other of Babo's hits launched by Cortes were "Canção Pra Inglês Ver" and "Lua Cor de Prata" in Pra Inglês Ver (1931), "Tu" in Morangos Com Creme (1932), and "Os Rouxinóis" in Bom Mesmo é Mulher (1958) (and recorded by her in the LP Rosa de Ouro, No.1, 1965). Barro's "Mulata" knew the success in Cortes' rendition in 1929 in the revue Não Adianta Você Chorar. Almirante, in the early years of his career, also had songs launched by the singer. His biggest hit, "Na Pavuna," which became the prefix of all his radio shows, was presented by Cortes in 1930, in the revue Dá Nela. In March 1933, Cortes and all the cast of the Jardel Jércolis company went to Lisbon, Portugal, packing the Coliseu dos Recreios. From there, she and part of the company had success in Spain and in Paris, France, and then returned to Portugal. Back to Brazil in 1934, she was elected the Best Artist of Brazilian Radio by popular vote on March 8, 1935, with Mário Reis in second place and Carmen Miranda in the 11th place. In the same year, Cortes launched the "anthem" of Rio de Janeiro, "Cidade Maravilhosa" (André Filho), and toured Argentina.
Having participated in 137 pieces until late 1953, she retired, returning frequently, though, working in eight other plays until 1961. In 1965 she was brought to the scene by Hermínio Bello de Carvalho in the historic show Rosa de Ouro, which also had Clementina de Jesus and Paulinho da Viola, among others, yielding the LPs Rosa de Ouro, Vol.1 and Rosa de Ouro, Vol. 2. She would still perform in 1976 and 1978, when she retired definitively.