Irene Cara
Cara in 1981
Irene Cara Escalera

(1959-03-18)March 18, 1959
New York City, U.S.
DiedNovember 25, 2022(2022-11-25) (aged 63)
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1965–2011[1][2]
Known for
(m. 1986; div. 1991)
Musical career
  • Vocals

Irene Cara Escalera (March 18, 1959[note 1] – November 25, 2022) was an American singer and actress[13] who rose to prominence for her role as Coco Hernandez in the 1980 musical film Fame, and for recording the film's title song "Fame", which reached No. 1 in several countries. In 1983, Cara co-wrote and sang the song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (from the film Flashdance), for which she shared an Academy Award for Best Original Song and won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984.

Before her success with Fame, Cara portrayed the title character Sparkle Williams in the original 1976 musical drama film Sparkle.

Early life

Irene Cara Escalera was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City, the youngest of five children.[8][12] Her father, Gaspar Cara,[14] a steel factory worker and retired saxophonist, was Puerto Rican, and her mother, Louise Escalera, a movie theater usher, was Cuban.[8][12] Cara had two sisters and two brothers.[12] She began to play the piano by ear, studied music, acting, and dance,[citation needed] and began taking dance lessons when she was five.[8] Her performing career started with her singing and dancing professionally on Spanish-language television. She made early TV appearances on The Original Amateur Hour (singing in Spanish)[15] and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.[14] In 1971, she was a regular on PBS's educational program The Electric Company as a member of the Short Circus, the show's band, appearing as a member during the show’s first season.[8] As a child, Cara recorded a Spanish-language record for the Latin market and an English-language Christmas album. She also appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington, which featured Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr., and Roberta Flack.[16] Cara attended the Professional Children's School in Manhattan.[12] In 1985, Cara told Cosmopolitan "I don't mean to sound immodest, but I'd never had any doubt that I'd be successful, nor any fear of success; I was raised as a little goddess who was told she would be a star."[17]


[Gail] Boggs describes Cara as a "perfectionist" who works on a song until absolutely satisfied with it.[2]


Cara appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway shows, starting with Maggie Flynn opposite Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy.[2][18] Shortly thereafter, she was one of five finalists for the "Little Miss America" pageant.[2] She also appeared in Via Galactica with Raúl Juliá,[18] Ain't Misbehavin'[8] and The Me Nobody Knows (which won an Obie Award).[2] Cara was the original Daisy Allen on the 1970s daytime serial Love of Life. She later took on the role of Angela in the romance/thriller Aaron Loves Angela,[2] followed by her portrayal of the title character in Sparkle.[12]

Television brought Cara international acclaim for serious dramatic roles in Roots: The Next Generations and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.[8] John Willis' Screen World, Vol. 28, named her one of twelve "Promising New Actors of 1976"; that same year, a readers' poll in Right On! magazine named her Top Actress.[19]

The 1980 hit film Fame, directed by Alan Parker, catapulted Cara to stardom. She originally was cast as a dancer, but when producers David Da Silva and Alan Marshall and screenwriter Christopher Gore heard her voice, they re-wrote the role of Coco Hernandez for her to play. In this part, she sang both the title song "Fame" and the single "Out Here on My Own", which were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.[12] These songs helped make the film's soundtrack a chart-topping, multi-platinum album, and it was the first time that two songs from the same film and sung by the same artist were nominated in the same category. Cara had the opportunity to be one of the few singers to perform more than one song at the Oscar ceremony; "Fame," written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, won the award for best original song that year, and the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.[20] Cara earned Grammy Award nominations in 1980 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical. Billboard named her Top New Single Artist, and Cashbox magazine awarded her both Most Promising Female Vocalist and Top Female Vocalist. Asked by Fame TV series producers to reprise her role as Coco Hernandez, she declined, wanting to focus her attention on her recording career; Erica Gimpel assumed the role.[21]

Cara in 1983

In 1980, she briefly played the role of Dorothy in The Wiz on tour, in a role that Stephanie Mills had portrayed in the original Broadway production. Coincidentally, Cara and Mills had shared the stage together as children in the original 1968 Broadway musical Maggie Flynn, starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, in which both young girls played American Civil War orphans.[22] Cara was set to star in the sitcom Irene in 1981. The cast had veteran performers Kaye Ballard and Teddy Wilson as well as newcomers Julia Duffy and Keenen Ivory Wayans. However, the pilot was not picked up by the network for the fall season.[23] In 1983, Cara appeared as herself in the film D.C. Cab. One of the characters, Tyrone, played by Charlie Barnett, is an obsessed Cara fan who decorated his Checker Cab as a shrine to her.[22] "The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)", her contribution to the film's soundtrack, played over the closing credits of the film,[24] and was a minor hit, peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1984.[25][26]

In 1982, Cara earned the Image Award for Best Actress when she co-starred with Diahann Carroll and Rosalind Cash in the NBC Movie of the Week Sister, Sister.[27] Cara portrayed Myrlie Evers-Williams in For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story, the PBS TV movie about civil rights leader Medgar Evers, [22] and she earned an NAACP Image Award Best Actress nomination. She also appeared in 1982's Killing 'em Softly. Cara continued to perform in live theater.

In 1983, Cara reached the peak of her music career with the title song for the movie Flashdance: "Flashdance... What a Feeling",[28] which she co-wrote with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. Cara wrote the lyrics to the song with Keith Forsey while riding in a car in New York heading to the studio to record it; Moroder composed the music. Cara admitted later that she was initially reluctant to work with Giorgio Moroder because she had no wish to invite comparisons with Donna Summer, another artist who worked with Moroder.[29] The song became a hit in several countries, attracting several awards for Cara. She shared the 1983 Academy Award for Best Original Song with Moroder and Forsey,[30] becoming the first black woman to win an Oscar in a non-acting category and the youngest to receive an Oscar for songwriting.[31] She won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance,[32] 1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year.[citation needed]

In 1984, she was in the comedic thriller City Heat, co-starring with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds and singing the standards "Embraceable You" and "Get Happy". She also co-wrote the theme song "City Heat", sung by the jazz vocalist Joe Williams. In May 1984, she scored her final Top 40 hit with "Breakdance" going to No. 8. "You Were Made for Me" reached No. 78 that summer, but she did not appear on the Hot 100 again. In 1985, Cara co-starred with Tatum O'Neal in Certain Fury. In 1986, Cara appeared in the film Busted Up. She also provided the voice of Snow White in the unofficial sequel to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Filmation's Happily Ever After, in 1993. The same year, she appeared as Mary Magdalene in a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, and Dennis DeYoung.[33]

Cara released three studio albums: Anyone Can See in 1982, What a Feelin' in 1983,[12] and Carasmatic in 1987, the most successful of these being What a Feelin'. In 1985, she collaborated with the Hispanic charity supergroup Hermanos in the song "Cantaré, cantarás", in which she sang a solo segment with the Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo. Cara toured Europe and Asia throughout the 1990s, achieving several modest dance hits on European charts, but no U.S. chart hits. She released a compilation of Eurodance singles in the mid-to-late 1990s titled Precarious 90's. Cara also worked as a backup vocalist for Vicki Sue Robinson,[34] Lou Reed,[34] George Duke,[35] Oleta Adams,[36] and Evelyn "Champagne" King.[34]

In 1993, a California jury awarded her $1.5 million from a 1985 lawsuit she filed against record executive Al Coury and Network Records, accusing them of withholding royalties from the Flashdance soundtrack and her first two solo records. Cara stated that, as a result, she was labeled as being difficult to work with and that the music industry "virtually blacklisted" her.[12]

In 2004, Cara received two honors with an induction into the Ciboney Cafe's Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the sixth annual Prestige Awards. In 2005, Cara won the third round of the NBC television series Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, performing "Flashdance... What a Feeling" and covered Anastacia's song "I'm Outta Love" with her all-female band Hot Caramel. At the 2006 AFL Grand Final in Melbourne, Cara performed a rendition of "Flashdance" as an opener to the pre-match entertainment.[37]

In 2005, Cara contributed a dance single, titled "Forever My Love", to the compilation album titled Gay Happening Vol. 12.[38]

Cara was in Hot Caramel, a band which she formed in 1999.[39] Their album, called Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel, was released in 2011. Cara appeared in season 2 of CMT's reality show Gone Country.[40][41]

Personal life and death

Cara married once and had no children. Cara married stuntman and film director Conrad Palmisano in Los Angeles on April 13, 1986.[42] They divorced in 1991.[14] At the time of her death, Cara was a resident of Florida, living in Largo and maintaining a secondary address in New Port Richey, where her company, Caramel Productions, was located.[43] She died from arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease at her home on November 25, 2022, at 63 years of age.[12][44]


Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label

1967 Ésta es Irene[50] Gema Records
1982 Anyone Can See 76 39 48 Network
1983 What a Feelin' 77 45 49 83 Network/Geffen
1987 Carasmatic Elektra
2011 Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel CPM
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications Album
1980 "Fame" 4 3 42 1 1 1 3 1 Fame
"Hot Lunch Jam"
"Out Here on My Own" 19 41 58
1982 "Anyone Can See" 42 Anyone Can See
"My Baby (He's Something Else)"
1983 "Flashdance... What a Feeling" 1 1 1 3 2 17 1 1 1 2 Flashdance / What a Feelin'
"Why Me?" 13 5 23 17 24 6 4 86 What a Feelin'
"The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)" 37 84 D.C. Cab / What a Feelin'
1984 "Breakdance" 8 19 10 53 25 20 20 88 What a Feelin'
"You Were Made for Me" 78
1987 "Girlfriends" Carasmatic
2001 "What a Feeling" (with DJ BoBo) 3 2 Planet Colors
2004 "Downtown" Downtown: A Street Tale
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Soundtrack appearances

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Year Album Track(s)
1971 The Me Nobody Knows "Black"
1980 Fame "Fame", "Out Here on My Own", "Hot Lunch Jam", "I Sing the Body Electric"
1982 Killing 'em Softly "City Nights"
1983 Flashdance "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
1983 D.C. Cab "The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)"
1984 Going Bananas "Going Bananas" (TV series theme song)
1984 City Heat "Embraceable You", "Get Happy"
1985 Certain Fury "Certain Fury"
1986 Busted Up "Busted Up", "Dying For Your Love", "I Can't Help Feeling Empty", "She Works Hard For Her Money"
1986 The Longshot "The Long Shot"
1989 All Dogs Go to Heaven "Love Survives" (with Freddie Jackson)
1989 Happily Ever After "Love is the Reason"
1990 Caged in Paradiso "Paradiso"
1990 China Cry "No One But You"
1992 The Magic Voyage "We'll Always Be Together"
1997 The Full Monty "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (re-recording)
2004 Downtown: A Street Tale "Downtown"

Vocal appearances on other albums

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Stage acting


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Year Title Role Note
1970–71 Love of Life Daisy Allen Daytime drama
1971–72 The Electric Company Iris Band member of the Short Circus
1976 Kojak Amy Episode: "A Hair-Trigger Away"
1977 What's Happening!! Maria Episode: "Rerun Gets Married"
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Bertha Palmer Haley Miniseries (3 episodes)
1980 Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones Alice Jefferson Movie
1981 Irene Irene Cannon Sitcom pilot
1983 For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story Myrlie Evers American Playhouse movie
1988 Bustin' Loose Herself Episode: "What's a Nice Girl Like You...?"
1991 Gabriel's Fire Celine Bird Episode: "Birds Gotta Fly"
1992 Hearts Are Wild Dorah Episode 1.8


Year Title Role Note
1975 Aaron Loves Angela Angela
1976 Sparkle Sparkle Williams
1976 Apple Pie Dancer
1980 Fame Coco Hernandez
1982 Killing 'em Softly Jane
1982 Sister, Sister Sisina "Sissy" Lovejoy
1983 D.C. Cab Herself
1984 City Heat Ginny Lee
1985 Certain Fury Tracy
1986 Busted Up Simone Bird
1989 Caged in Paradiso Eva
1989 Happily Ever After Snow White Voice role
1992 Beauty and the Beast Beauty Voice role
1992 The Magic Voyage Marilyn Voice role
1994 The Jungle King Leonette Voice role; direct-to-video
1995 Beyond Awareness to Action: Ending Abuse of Women Herself/host Documentary short
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Melody Voice role; direct-to-video
2004 Downtown: A Street Tale Neighbor Cameo

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref
1983 Academy Awards Best Original Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
(shared with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey)
Won [65]
1984 American Music Awards Favorite Pop/Rock Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" Nominated [66]
Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist Herself Nominated
1981 Billboard Year-End New Female Single Artist Won [67]
1983 Top Pop Single Artists – Female Won [68]
1983 British Academy Film Awards Best Original Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
(shared with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey)
Nominated [69]
1980 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Fame Nominated [70]
1983 Best Original Song "Flashdance... What a Feeling"
(shared with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey)
1981 Grammy Awards Best New Artist Herself Nominated [71]
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female "Fame" Nominated
1984 Album of the Year Flashdance: Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture
(shared with other artists)
Record of the Year "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (shared with Giorgio Moroder) Nominated
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female "Flashdance... What a Feeling" Won
Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or A Television Special Flashdance: Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture
(shared with other songwriters)
1982 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Miniseries or Drama Special Sister, Sister Won [14]
1984 People's Choice Awards Favorite Theme/Song from a Motion Picture "Flashdance... What a Feeling" Won [72]

See also


  1. ^ Cara's year of birth is disputed. The majority of sources claim 1959,[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] one claims 1962,[9] and Cara herself implied she was born in 1961 by claiming she turned 59 years old via a 2020 tweet,[10] despite stating she was 24 in a 1983 interview with Dick Clark on American Bandstand (which would indicate a birth year of 1959).[1] As of May 22, 2021, a year after her tweet, her Twitter profile says that she was born a year later in 1962.[11] Her mother told The New York Times in 1970 that a young Ms. Cara was 11 years old (which would also indicate a birth year of 1959).[12]


  1. ^ a b Dick Clark Interviews Irene Cara, American Bandstand, 1983. Retrieved March 6, 2020 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Irene Cara:A Show Biz Veteran at Age 22". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. XXXVI (9): 88–94. July 1981. ISSN 0012-9011.
  3. ^ Baugh, Scott L. (2012). "Irene Cara 1959-". Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends. Abc-Clio. ISBN 9780313380365. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  4. ^ McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of Hispanic American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland & Company. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7864-3790-0.
  5. ^ Camp, Robert Lee (2008). Your Birthday, Your Card. Sourcebooks. ISBN 9781402212925. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  6. ^ Stange, Ellen Silver (March 10, 2016). New York State of Fame. Page Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-1-68289-026-4 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Hellmann, Paul T. (2009). Historical Gazetteer of the United States. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-94859-7. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sheff, David (November 10, 1980). "After 16 Years in Showbiz, Irene Cara, 21, Gets Her Diploma in Movies with Fame". People. Archived from the original on December 15, 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  9. ^ Goldsmith, Melissa Ursula Dawn; Fonseca, Anthony J. (December 2018). Hip Hop around the World: An Encyclopedia (2 volumes), edited by Melissa Ursula Dawn Goldsmith, Anthony J. Fonseca. Abc-Clio. ISBN 9780313357596. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  10. ^ @Irene_Cara (March 18, 2020). "Many thanks for the birthday wishes. Despite all the incorrect info on Wikipedia ( there is no T anywhere in my name and I'm 59 today) I wish you all to be safe and healthy. God Bless !" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  11. ^ "Irene Cara". Twitter. March 18, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Traub, Alex; Holpuch, Amanda (November 26, 2022). "Irene Cara, 'Fame' and 'Flashdance' Singer, Dies at 63". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  13. ^ McCann, Bob (2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7864-5804-2.
  14. ^ a b c d McCann, Bob (December 8, 2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and television. McFarland. pp. 67–69. ISBN 978-0-7864-5804-2. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
  15. ^ Irene Cara singing "Ola Ola Ola" on Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour"
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  19. ^ The Million Sellers. Omnibus Press. 2012. p. 181. ISBN 9780857128829.
  20. ^ "THE 53RD ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  21. ^ Rothenberg, Fred (January 7, 1982). "'Fame' Series Pilot 'Sparkling'". The Sumter Daily Item. Archived from the original on October 15, 2021. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  22. ^ a b c Harrington, Richard (January 12, 1984). "What a Feeling! Irene Cara as Her Famous Self". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  23. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1985). Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials, Volume 2. VNR AG. p. 209. ISBN 9780918432612. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  24. ^ "D.C. Cab (1983)". AFI Catalog. American Film Institute. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  25. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2009). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 1955-2008. Record Research. p. 158. ISBN 978-0898201802.
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  27. ^ "Sister, Sister (1982)". BLACKListed Culture. October 1, 2021. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
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  29. ^ "NewsBank InfoWeb".
  30. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards | 1984". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  31. ^ Staff | Obituaries (November 29, 2022). "Irene Cara, Oscar-winning singer and actress who sang the feel-good theme songs to Fame and Flashdance – obituary". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on November 29, 2022. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
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  33. ^ Catlin, Roger (February 10, 1993). "Original Stars Shine in 'Superstar'". Hartford Courant. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  34. ^ a b c Kawashima, Dale (May 24, 2018). "Special Interview With Pop Legend Irene Cara, Co-Writer & Singer Of The #1 Hit "Flashdance…What a Feeling" And Star Of The Movie, Fame". SongwriterUniverse. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  35. ^ "No Rhyme, No Reason: The Elektra/Warner Years 1985-2000". AllMusic. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  36. ^ "The Very Best of Oleta Adams [1998]". AllMusic. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  37. ^ Gibson, Jano (September 30, 2006). "Last ditch bid for tickets". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved November 14, 2021.
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  40. ^ Hughes, William (November 26, 2022). "R.I.P. Irene Cara, the musical voice of Fame and Flashdance". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  41. ^ Bierly, Mandi (May 6, 2008). "CMT's 'Gone Country 2': Gone bats--t crazy!". Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  42. ^ "Oscar-winning singer-actress Irene Cara married veteran stuntman Conrad Palmisano". United Press International. April 14, 1986. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  43. ^ Behrendt, Barbara (November 26, 2022). "Irene Cara, star of 'Flashdance' and 'Fame,' dies at 63; had ties to Tampa Bay". The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
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