Orestes Barbosa wrote highly successful and classic valses, foxes, and sambas that were recorded by composers/interpreters like Castro Barbosa, Silvio Caldas, Francisco Alves, Noel Rosa, Carlos Galhardo, Aracy de Almeida, Orlando Silva, Zezé Gonzaga, and Paulinho da Viola, among others. He also wrote ten books and was a reporter, reviser, secretary, chronicler, owner -- in the end, performing all functions -- in newspapers. He worked in many of them, like A Gazeta de Notícias, A Manhã, O Radical, Opinião, O Mundo, A Hora, O Avante, A Folha, A Noite, O Dia, A Notícia, O Globo, Diretrizes, A Pátria, and A Imprensa. A man of ideals, he was arrested several times and wrote his book Na Prisão in the jail. Born in the same neighborhood as Noel Rosa and Vila Isabel, Orestes Barbosa moved with his family to the Gávea borough in 1899, where they lived in poverty and no education. There he knew a boy by the name Clodoaldo Pereira de Moraes, who would be Vinícius de Moraes' father. de Moraes taught him how to play the violão (acoustic guitar) and Barbosa taught himself to read from streetcar advertising and newspaper headlines. At nine, was praised by journalist João Guedes de Melo as a future talent. At 13, he won a contest promoted by Tico-Tico magazine.
In 1913, Barbosa became a reporter, at the Diário de Notícias, run by Rui Barbosa. In the same year, he participated in the foundation of other newspapers like O Jornal and O Imparcial. Also in that year, an important fact for the Brazilian samba involving Barbosa occurred. Motivated by the increase and impunity of gambling in the city, Irineu Marinho's newspaper A Noite unleashed a campaign for morality attacking the omissive commissary. Barbosa went to the Largo da Carioca and put a cardboard roulette with ironic words in a poster there. It was fully reported by the city's press and the situation was depicted soon after in the controversial first recorded samba "Pelo Telefone" ("By the Telephone") (Donga/Mauro de Almeida, written in 1916 and recorded in the next year), as "the Police chief/By the telephone/told someone to inform/that in the Largo da Carioca/there is a roulette/for us to play." In 1917, Barbosa released Penumbra Sagrada, his first poetry book. Na Prisão, Água Marinha, the novel A Fêmea, and others followed. In 1923, he was sent to Europe by newspaper A Pátria, where he was decorated as Comendador da Ordem de São Tiago da Espada in Portugal. With the official opening of radio transmissions in Brazil in 1922, the nascent cultural industry was marked by the talents of Lamartine Babo, Noel Rosa, Ary Barroso, along with Barbosa himself and others. He was the first to keep a column about radio in the Carioca press, in the newspaper A Hora. In 1924, Barbosa traveled again to Europe, visiting France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Holland. In 1929, he went another time to the old continent. In 1932, he was a juror in the first samba school Carnival contest. Two years later, together with Ary Barroso and other composers, he wrote the soundtrack of Humberto Mauro's movie Favela Dos Meus Amores. He already had his lyrics had been recorded since 1928, but they were written originally as poetry. In the '30s, he began to devote himself intentionally to popular music, with "Romance de Carnaval" valse (with J. Machado) and "Bangalô" (with Osvaldo Santiago), the latter being recorded by Alvinho for Odeon in 1931. Castro Barbosa recorded two of his songs in the same year, through Victor: the fox "Flor Do Asfalto" and the samba "Carioca." Also in 1931, he recorded as singer for the first time. The songs were "Nega, Meu Bem (Heitor dos Prazeres), for Parlophon, and the marchinha "As Lavadeiras (Orestes Barbosa/Nássara). A fighter for the cause of an indigenous Brazilian language, he inspired Noel Rosa to write the samba "Não Tem Tradução (1933). In that year, he also wrote "Positivismo" with Rosa, which was recorded by the latter for Columbia. The samba "Caixa Econômica" with Nássara was recorded by João Petra de Barros and Luís Barbosa through Victor. In the same year, he released his book Samba, consisting in chronicles that portrayed the ascension of the urban samba. In 1934, Francisco Alves recorded for Odeon the marcha "Há Uma Forte Corrente Contra Você" and for Victor "A Mulher Que Ficou Na Taça," "Romance," and "Adeus" (all by Francisco Alves/Orestes Barbosa). In the same year, he wrote with Nonô the canção "Olga," recorded by Castro Barbosa for Odeon. Also in that year, Sílvio Caldas recorded two of his compositions in partnership with Barbosa, "Serenata" (for Victor) and "Quase Que eu Disse" (through Odeon). In 1935, Caldas recorded "Santa De Meus Amores" for Victor and in the next year, recorded through Odeon "Torturante Ironia." In 1937, Caldas recorded "Arranha-céu for Odeon and their masterpiece "Chão de Estrelas." In 1938, Caldas recorded their "Suburbana," another classic, for Columbia. In the same year, they wrote "A Ùnica Rima," recorded later by Caldas. Sílvio Caldas was Barbosa's most frequent collaborator and the serestas written by the duo helped to inscribe Caldas as a popular interpreter. Barbosa also had Noel Rosa, Wilson Batista (samba "Cabelo Branco," recorded by Carlos Galhardo for Victor in 1946, and "Abigail," recorded by Orlando Silva for Odeon in 1947), Nonô, J. Thomaz, Francisco Alves ("Dona da Minha Vontade"), Valzinho ("Óculos Escuros, recorded in 1955 by Zezé Gonzaga and re-recorded by Paulinho da Viola in 1971), Custódio Mesquita (the samba-choro "Flauta, Cavaquinho e Violão," recorded by Araci de Almeida for Odeon in 1946), and Ataulfo Alves (samba "O Negro E O Café," recorded by Ataulfo for Victor in 1945) as partners, among others.