Irene Cara was one of the bright stars of pop/soul in the early to mid-80s. She won an Academy Award in 1984 in the category of Best Original Song for co-writing "Flashdance... What a Feeling". She is best known for her recordings of the songs "Fame" and "Flashdance... What a Feeling". She also starred in the 1980 film version of Fame.
Cara's father, Gaspar Cara (died in 1994), was an African-American and Puerto Rican. Her mother, Louise Escalera, is of French and Cuban descent. She has two sisters and two brothers.
Cara first captivated the audiences of her family sometime after her fifth birthday when she began to play the piano by ear. Cara soon moved into serious studies of music, acting, and dance. At the age of three, she was one of five finalists for the Little Miss America pageant.
Cara's performing career started on Spanish-language television as a child, professionally singing and dancing. She made early TV appearances on the Original Amateur Hour (singing in Spanish), The Ed Sullivan Show, and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show. By age 8, Cara recorded a Latin-market Spanish-language record; an English Christmas album soon followed. At age 10 she appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington with Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr. and Roberta Flack.
From there, Cara appeared in on-and off-Broadway theatrical shows including the musicals Ain't Misbehavin', The Me Nobody Knows (which won an Obie award), Maggie Flynn opposite Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, and Via Galactica with Raul Julia.
In the 1970s, Cara was the star of "The Everything Show", a program which aired locally in New York City. She was the original Daisy Allen on the now-defunct daytime serial Love of Life in the 1970s. She left the show to star in the educational series The Electric Company, playing a member of the band The Short Circus (she was on the show during the first season only). The series also featured Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Morgan Freeman, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers and Gene Wilder. Next came her role as Angela in romance/thriller Aaron Loves Angela, followed by her portrayal of the title character in Sparkle. Television brought Irene international acclaim for serious dramatic roles in two outstanding mini series, Roots: The Next Generations, the critically acclaimed adaptation of Alex Haley's moving novel, and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.
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.
Cara graduated from the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, a rival of the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art. Ironically, LaGuardia High was the inspiration for the performing arts school in her third movie Fame.
The 1980 box office smash movie Fame catapulted Irene to stardom. As Coco Hernandez, she sang both the title song "Fame" and the film's second hit single "Out Here on My Own". These songs helped make the movie soundtrack a chart-topping, multi-platinum album. Further history was made when at the Academy Awards that year; for the first time two songs from one film were nominated in the same category: "Fame" and "Out Here on My Own". Cara had the opportunity to be one of the few singers to perform more than one song at the Oscar ceremony. (Note: Robert Goulet, who sang all the Oscar-nominated songs in 1963, is among several singers who had done so in the past.) "Fame", written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, won the award that year.
The motion picture Fame earned Irene Grammy nominations in 1980 for Best New Female Artist and Best New Pop Artist, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical. Billboard Magazine named Irene Top New Single Artist, while Cashbox Magazine awarded her both Most Promising Female Vocalist and Top Female Vocalist.
When Fame became a television series a few years later, Cara was asked by the TV series' producers to reprise her role as Coco Hernandez. But she turned them down, feeling that she had already done everything she could with the role in the film, and over additional concerns that her film work in the role might be diminished if the television show failed. As a result, newcomer Erica Gimpel, who looked similar to Cara, played the role instead. However, Cara did make a special guest appearance on the series in 1983 as a "successful alumna" of the performing-arts school portrayed in the series, singing her then-current single, "Why Me?".
In 1982, Irene earned the Image Award for Best Actress when she co-starred with Diahann Carroll and Rosalind Cash in the NBC Movie of the Week, Maya Angelou's Sister, Sister. Irene portrayed Myrlie Evers-Williams in the PBS TV movie about civil rights leader Medgar Evers, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story; and earned an NAACP Image Award Best Actress nomination. She also appeared in 1982's Killing 'em Softly.
Cara was also pegged to star in her very own sitcom, entitled Irene, on NBC in 1981. Even though the pilot aired and received favorable reviews, the network did not pick it up for its fall season of new shows. It also starred veteran performers Kaye Ballard and Teddy Wilson, as well as newcomers Julia Duffy and Keenan Ivory Wayans.
In 1983, Cara appeared as herself in the film D.C. Cab, about a group of cabbies, starring Mr. T. As an in-joke, one of the characters, an obsessed Irene Cara fan, decorated his Checker Cab as a shrine to her.
In addition to her music and film work, Cara also continued to perform in live theatre during this period. In the summer of 1980, she briefly played the role of Dorothy in The Wiz on tour. Of course, this was the role that singer/actress Stephanie Mills created 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 Civil War orphans.
In 1983, Irene reached the apex of her music career with the title song for the movie Flashdance, "Flashdance...What A Feeling", 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 wrote the music.
Cara admitted later that she was initially reluctant to work with Giorgio Moroder because she didn't want to invite further comparisons with Moroder's most famous client, Donna Summer, (1), but it paid off, as the result was a record which topped the charts around the world and won numerous accolades for Cara. She won the 1983 Academy Award for Best Song(Oscar); 1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, Top Female Vocalist-Pop Singles, Black Contemporary Female Vocalist-Pop Singles, Top Pop Crossover Artist-Black Contemporary Singles, Pop Single of the Year, American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year.
In 1984, she was in the Clint Eastwood - Burt Reynolds comedic thriller City Heat, in which she sang the standards "Embraceable You" and "Get Happy". In 1985, Cara co-starred with Tatum O'Neal in Certain Fury, a notorious box office and critical flop about women escaping prison. In 1986 appeared in the film Busted Up. Cara 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.
Along with her successful career in acting and several hit singles, Cara has released three albums thus far. Those albums are Anyone Can See in 1982, What A Feelin' in 1983, and Carasmatic in 1987. She also released a compilation of Eurodance singles in the mid to late 1990s entitled Precarious 90's. Cara recently contributed a new dance single, titled "Forever My Love", to the compilation album titled Gay Happening Vol. 12, in 2006.
In addition to her solo recordings, Cara has worked as a backup vocalist for Vicki Sue Robinson, Lou Reed, George Duke, and Evelyn "Champagne" King. Cara has never stopped performing, touring in Europe and Asia throughout the 1990s, scoring several top ten dance hits on non-US charts.
In June 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 current all-female band, Hot Caramel. At the 2006 AFL Grand Final in Melbourne, Cara performed "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" as an opener to the pre-match entertainment.
She lives in Florida and continues work in preparation for her band Hot Caramel's album. She also has her own production studio.