Irene Cara's father Gaspar was a musician in a mambo band and at the age of five she made her debut on Spanish language TV singing with them. Bitten by the performing bug, she built on her natural piano skills with singing, acting and dance lessons and made several more appearances on television. Her debut on Broadway in 1968 in the successful production of Maggie Flynn which starred Shirley Jones and her husband Jack Cassidy (father of 70s pop heartthrob David Cassidy) was followed when she was nine years old with the release of her first Spanish language album Esta Es Irene (1968). Without major label backing for promotion and distribution the records went largely unnoticed. More significant parts followed in the US TV serial Love Of Life, in the leading role in the 1972 movie Sparkle starring opposite Philip Michael Thomas (who would later enjoy huge popularity as Ricardo Tubbs in Michael Mann's 80s TV series Miami Vice) and in the full-length feature film Aaron Loves Angela (1975).
Cara's first taste of major success came through two dramatic television series; Roots: The Next Generation (playing Bertha Palmer Haley) and Guyana Tragedy: The Story Of Jim Jones. Cara had previously attended Manhattan's Professional Children's School, a performing arts establishment that made her a perfect choice to star in the next and what would become the biggest movie of her career to date. Director Alan Parker's 1980 smash hit Fame followed the fictional lives of students at the New York School Of Performing Arts (similar to the one she herself had attended) and her role of Coco Hernandez launched her to international stardom. Singing two of the movie's most memorable songs; the title track 'Fame' and 'Out Here On My Own', Cara was nominated for two Academy Awards in the same category and after performing both songs at the Awards ceremony the former walked away with the Oscar for Best Original Song, a feat it replicated at that year's Golden Globes. Cara herself was recognised for her part in the movie and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress.
On the back of her success in Fame she took part in NBC's Sister Sister movie of the week for which she received the Best Actress award at the Image Awards and she also released her debut album (as an adult) Anyone Can See (1983). Signed to Network Records the album featured a couple of covers (Holland-Dozier-Holland's Motown classic 'Reach Out (I'll Be There)' and Leo Sayer's 'Thunder In My Heart') as well as several songs co-written by Cara herself. The record was produced by industry veteran Ron Dante (Barry Manilow, The Archies, The Cuff-Links) who assembled a group of top session players including; Hugh McCracken, Andy Newmark, Jimmy Ripp, Luther Vandross, Jimmy Maelen, John Tropea, Hiram Bullock, Don Grolnick and Paul Shaffer. Despite the quality of the musicians involved, the polished production and Cara's undoubted talents, the record stalled at No 76 in the US charts. The following year she teamed-up with established songwriter/producers Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey to compose the song 'Flashdance... What A Feeling' for the Adrian Lyne directed movie Flashdance. Both the film and the track were huge international hits with the song topping charts around the world including the USA and garnering an Oscar for Best Song, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and an American Music Award for Best Pop Single Of The Year while Cara herself won an American Music Award for Best R&B Female Artist and a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The trio also collaborated on Cara's second album What A Feelin' which apart from the title track contained several more hits including 'Why Me', 'The Dream (Hold On To Your Dream)' which was taken from the 1983 Joel Schumacher film D.C. Cab in which Cara featured as herself while another hit was the Top 10 'Breakdance' which would prove to be her last successful record.
In 1984, Cara had a leading role in the Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds film City Heat for which she co-wrote the movie's theme and was featured in performing the Gershwin classic 'Embraceable You' and Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler's 'Get Happy'. Other movie credits during the decade include Certain Fury (1985) and Busted Up (1986). Her last album of the 80s was 1987's Carasmatic which despite being produced by George Duke and featuring contributions from major talents including Carole King, Luther Vandross, Bonnie Raitt, James Ingram and Patrice Rushen failed to chart or to yield any hit singles. While Cara returned to acting on TV and film (she supplied voices in Die Abenteuer Von Pico Und Columbus aka The Magic Voyage (1992) and Happily Ever After (1993)), and notably on stage in the touring revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, her singing career has mainly been reduced to either guest appearances or as a backing vocalist for other artists.
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