Herivelto Martins was one of the most successful singers and composers of Brazilian Popular Music. His compositions became true classics: in 1936, "Acorda, Escola de Samba" (with Benedito Lacerda), recorded by Sílvio Caldas for Odeon; "Duas Lágrimas" (with Benedito Lacerda), recorded by Nestor Amaral for Odeon; "Se o Morro Não Descer" (with Darci de Oliveira), recorded by Araci de Almeida for Victor; in 1937, the samba-canção "Palmeira Triste" recorded by Carmem Barbosa for Victor; the samba "No Picadeiro da Vida" (with Benedito Lacerda), recorded by Carmem Barbosa; and "Cabaré no Morro," recorded by Carmem Miranda for Odeon; in 1938 the samba "Goma de Gomá," recorded by Aurora Miranda for Odeon; the choro "Meu Rádio e Meu Mulato," recorded by Carmem Miranda for Odeon; "Batuque no Morro" (Martins/Humberto Porto/Ozon), and the march "Seu Condutor," recorded by Alvarenga e Ranchinho. He also enjoyed popular acclaim as a performer, in his Dupla Preto e Branco and Trio de Ouro, and as arranger of all vocal parts in those groups. Through his work, he chronicled Rio from 1930 on, the hills and the city, the Praça Tiradentes, the Mangue, and the Lapa. He greatly contributed to the spread of samba amidst the middle-class whites through his own samba school, Escola de Samba Herivelto Martins.
His father, Félix Martins, was a railroad worker who pursued his passion for theater writing, organizing and directing amateur plays; he was also a musician, playing violão, cavaquinho, trumpet, pandeiro, and piano. Herivelto made his stage debut at three in one of his father's plays. In 1917 they moved to Barra do Piraí, RJ, where both of their artistic activities continued, with the addition of the nascent Carnaval expression to their dramatic vocation. In fact, the Carnaval, having been born in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1835, would soon spread throughout Brazil, becoming more and more popular. Inspired by the Rio's event, every tiny Brazilian village had its own Carnaval annually. So, at eight, Herivelto was parading in his father's all-purpose group, playing reco-reco. In 1921 he wrote his first composition, "Nunca Mais," which remained unrecorded. At 15 he was invited to join a circus which came to the town, where he performed illusionist tricks. The circus was dissolved by the police, and Herivelto decided to move to Rio in 1930. The timing couldn't be worse. The crack of New York's stocks exchange had thrown Brazil into dire straits. But, as the enthusiastic novice couldn't evaluate the economic circumstances of that major breakdown, he also couldn't figure the sociological consequences of a series of events which would, ultimately, provide support for his artistry: the new media of recordings, radio and cinema propelled the nascent Brazilian popular music, opening an immense consumer market.
Arriving in Rio, Herivelto went to live with his brother Hedelacy (Lacy), who was sharing a room with other three people. Herivelto became a barber while offering his services to recording studios. Being invited to work in another barbershop, he became familiar with two Carioca hills, Pinto, where he lived, and Estácio, the most traditional bulwark of sambistas and samba in Rio. In that time he composed the valse "Capela de São José," recorded by Francisco Alves. He met Cartola, who introduced him to the sambistas of Mangueira. In 1934, he moved to Morro de São Carlos, and composed "Acorda, Escola de Samba," recorded by Sílvio Caldas. This samba portrayed the life in the hills, with a common day intermingled with nights of hot samba and love. According to Herivelto, this would be the first time that such common everyday life events would be pictured in song lyrics."Caboclo Abandonado" was written because of an unrequited love in São Carlos. Also in São Carlos he composed the marchinha "Seu Condutor," which, was recorded later by Alvarenga e Ranchinho. At that point, he had already become friends with Noel Rosa and other artists, but he wasn't yet a professional himself, just an amateur who liked to compose. Then he met one of the barbershop's clients, Príncipe Pretinho, who was a composer. He introduced Herivelto as a percussionist to the popular singer J.B. de Carvalho (João Batista de Carvalho), who specialized in pontos de macumba e candomblé (music for rituals of the ancient Afro religions). Invited to join Carvalho's group Conjunto Tupy, Herivelto would befriend Francisco Sena there, who would be his partner for his first duo, Dupla Preto e Branco. Having composed "Da Cor do Meu Violão," he succeeded in recording it (Victor, 1932). Harry Evans, director and sound engineer for Victor, appreciated the rhythmic and vocal tricks performed by Herivelto, and hired him for the Victor choir. In 1934, the Dupla Preto e Branco was hired by Teatro Serrador. In that year, the duo recorded for Odeon "Preto e Branco" (Herivelto Martins), "Quatro Horas" (Martins/Sena) and "Vamos Soltar Balão" (Martins/Sena). In 1935 Sena died, and Martins went to work at the Pascoal Segreto company, performing comic sketches. In 1936, he met the singer Dalva de Oliveira, whom he would later marry; she was also a very successful singer. With Nilo Chagas, he formed his second duo, Dupla Preto e Branco. His compositions were being recorded by names such as Sílvio Caldas ("Samaritana," written with Benedito Lacerda), and Araci de Almeida ("Pedindo a São João," with Darci de Oliveira). In 1936, Dalva was added to the duo, which was re-baptized as Trio de Ouro. They recorded the batuque "Itaquari" the next year for Victor, and the marchinha "Ceci e Peri" (both by Príncipe Pretinho), scoring two big hits, which earned them a contract with Rádio Mayrink Veiga. They would work also at Rádio Tupi in 1938, and Rádio Clube in 1940.
Martins and de Oliveira had their first son, Pery Ribeiro, in 1937; he would become a successful singer himself. Shortly thereafter, the couple would be hired by Cassino da Urca, the most sophisticated showroom of that time, working there until 1946, when the federal decree prohibiting gambling in Brazil closed all casinos. The apex of their success came in the '40s, and Martins' most successful compositions date from those years. Always interpreted by the Trio de Ouro, these are considered genuine all-times classics in Brazil: "Praça Onze" (with Grande Otelo), "Ave-Maria no Norro" and "Minueto" (with Benedito Lacerda). Other compositions from that time are "Segredo" (with Marino Pinto), recorded by Dalva de Oliveira; "Cabelos Brancos" (with Marino Pinto), recorded by Quatro Ases e um Curinga, and later by Alcides Gerardi, "A Lapa" (with Benedito Lacerda), "Que Rei Sou Eu" (with Waldemar Ressurreição), "Caminhemos" and "Isaura" (with Roberto Roberti), all four recorded by Francisco Alves. The couple's 13 years of marriage ended very publicly, with six more years of mutual accusations. Noemi Cavalcanti replaced Dalva in the Trio, and in 1952, Lourdinha Bittencourt and Raul Sampaio replaced Noemi and Chagas. The Trio was dissolved in 1957. Herivelto has been keeping a low profile ever since, appearing occasionally in music festivals and other shows.