Composer of expression in the Golden Age of Brazilian song, Zé da Zilda's classics are still popular today. He also had a noted career on the radio and recorded an expressive discography.
Since his childhood, he was involved in the musical scenery of Mangueira, where he was Cartola's friend, and of São Cristóvão, where he played cavaquinho and violão (acoustic guitar) in the famous Casa de Caboclo. There he was nicknamed Zé Com Fome, becoming Zé da Zilda after marrying composer/singer Zilda Fernandes in 1938. He was hired by Rádio Educadora and met Fernandes at Rádio Globo, were he hosted a show and led his own regional (small ensemble). This was the beginning of the casal da harmonia (harmony couple), which became Zé e Zilda on Rádio Cruzeiro do Sul. His samba "Não Quero Mais" (with Cartola and Carlos Cachaça) was a hit at the Carnival of 1936, sung by samba school of Mangueira. The song was recorded in the next year by Araci de Almeida and included later on Leny Andrade's Cartola and Paulinho da Viola's Nervos de Aço as "Não Quero Mais Amar a Ninguém." In 1938, Orlando Silva recorded "Meu Pranto Ninguém Vê" (with Ataulfo Alves). In 1940, he participated in the recordings of maestro Leopold Stokowski for the albums released in the U.S. In 1941, his samba "Aos Pés da Cruz" (with Marino Pinto) was recorded by Orlando Silva with great success, later being re-recorded by João Gilberto.
Zé e Zilda recorded for the first time in 1944 (Victor) with "Fim de Eixo" and "Levanta, José." This was the beginning of a large series of recordings of originals and other composers' songs. Their sequence of Carnival hits began with "Conversa, Laurindo" (with Ari Monteiro) in 1945, and the best-known is the march "Saca-rolha" (Zé/Zilda/Valdir Machado), which is still popular today. They returned to the Educadora, spent 12 years at Rádio Tupi, and sang for the last time on Rádio Mayrink Veiga. His sambas de breque (a style that Zilda supported to be created by Zé and Heitor Catumbi) "Nega Zura," "Mulher Malandra," and "Garota Copacabana" were recorded by Jorge Veiga on his LP O Melhor de Jorge Veiga (Copacabana, 1975).