Zequinha de Abreu was one of the prominent Brazilian composers of the "Belle Époque," having contributed to the establishment of the choro genre. His most famous composition, "Tico-tico No Fubá" (known abroad as "Tico-Tico"), is today still recorded by great artists worldwide, from all styles. At five, Zequinha was already a music enthusiast, spending hours delightfully watching musicians play. In this period, he was given a little harmonica, on which he quickly learned to play simple melodies. At seven, began to take music classes with Dionísio Machado, and later with José Inácio. At this time, he organized a little band with his classmates at school. Moving to Itu to study at the Colégio São Luís, he was already playing an ocarina. At ten, he joined the group of José de Abreu, and, shortly after, in 1884, he entered the Episcopal Seminary to become a priest, his mother's wish. There he began to take harmony classes with conductor José Pinto Tavares and Father Juvenal Kelly. Later he would study with Rossini Tavares de Lima (uncle of the famous researcher of the same name). One day, deciding to be a musician, he ran out of the seminary and went back home. On his way home, he composed the valse "Flor da Estrada."
Once in his hometown, he formed a locally renowned band. In 1896, Zequinha composed the maxixe "Bafo de Onça." His xote "D'alva" and valse "Soluços" were published by Casa Sotero, RJ. In 1899, he married Durvalina Brasil. Then, Zequinha formed the Lira Santarritense and Smart Orchestra (which played at the similary titled cinema), which were both very successful in nearby upcountry cities; in 1911, the Lira earned second place at a band contest. At this time, he was also a politician, but was composing even more: choros, marchinhas, valsas, tangos, and several other genres. Around 1915, he had already written nearly 100 compositions. In 1917, he played with his orchestra a new composition, still unnamed, at a ball. This jumpy, fast-tempo song made the dancing couples go crazy in the ballroom. He commented to his bandmates that those people were just like tico-ticos (a kind of little bird) eating corn meal. When he asked for suggestions about the song's name, his bassist Artur de Carvalho replied that he had already named it: "Tico-tico No Fubá."
On June 19, 1919, his father died and Zequinha moved, with his family, to São Paulo SP, where he was employed by the publishing house Casa Beethoven as a sheet-music demonstrator. He also was employed by the Bar Viaduto Orchestra and played in every opportunity throughout the city of São Paulo. He used to go door-to-door to demonstrate his songs and sell them directly to families. In 1924, his "Sururu Na Cidade," a humorous account of 1924's revolution, made for a great success. In that year, the Casa Vitale published his valse "Branca," written in 1918, dedicated to the daughter of the local train-station manager. "Branca" was the first sales success of that publishing house. "Tico-tico No Fubá" wasn't published until 1930, with lyrics written in 1931 by Eurico Barreiros. In 1933, Zequinha founded the Zequinha de Abreu Band, with 25 musicians. At that time, he frequently went to Rio, knowing several musicians and composers, including Catulo da Paixão Cearense. In 1942, "Tico-tico No Fubá" was recorded for the first time, with its "official" lyrics, by Ademilde Fonseca, "the Queen of Choro." It had been recorded ten days before by Alvarenga e Ranchinho with lyrics by Alvarenga and subtitled "Vamos Dançar, Comadre," and Carmem Miranda was also singing it in the U.S.A. with lyrics by Aluísio de Oliveira. In 1943, Walt Disney included it in his movie Saludos Amigos.
Zequinha was already an established and renowned composer; his compositions were already recorded by several different interpreters and orchestras. For example, the famous Orquestra Colbaz, conducted by Maestro Gaó, recorded "Branca" and "Tico-tico No Fubá" in 1931 (Columbia); Francisco Alves recorded in 1927 the samba "Pé de Elefante" (with Dino Castelo), in 1929 the valses "Aurora" (with Salvador Morais) and "Rosa Desfolhada" (with Dino Castelo), and in 1933 "Amor Imortal" (with João de Barro); and Celestino Paraventi recorded in 1930 the valses "Tardes em Lindóia" (with Pinto Martins) and "Longe Dos Olhos" (with Salvador Morais). In 1952, 17 years after his death, his life was depicted in the movie Tico-Tico No Fubá, directed by Fernando de Barros and Adolfo Celi for Companhia Vera Cruz.