(Adam Sweeting’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/27; Photo: Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez in Fame, 1980, directed by Alan Parker. She also sang the title song, which topped the British singles chart. Photograph: MGM/Allstar.)
American actor and singer best known for her role in the film Fame and co-writing the 1983 hit Flashdance … What a Feeling
Although her catalogue of recordings was not large, there were two songs that guaranteed Irene Cara a permanent place in the pop music hall of fame. In 1980 Cara, who has died unexpectedly aged 63, announced herself by topping the British singles chart with Fame, which also went to No 4 in the US.
It was the title song of Alan Parker’s eponymous film, documenting the struggles of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. Cara’s character, Coco Hernandez, was originally a dancer, but
The song’s pumping, anthemic tune and ecstatic lyric made it the perfect embodiment of every wannabe star’s ambitions – “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly … I’m gonna make it to heaven, Light up the sky like a flame.” Its aspirational influence reached down the years through a string of talent shows such as American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. Cara also became an inspiration for other Latin artists. The actor John Leguizamo tweeted: “She made me believe that if you were Latin you could make it! She fuelled my community.”
Both Fame and another single from the film soundtrack, Out Here on My Own (a Top 20 US hit), were nominated for Oscars, and since both were sung by Cara she achieved the rare feat of singing more than one song at an Academy Awards ceremony. Fame took the best original song statuette on the night. But her best was yet to come. Oscar night, 1984, found Cara back in the spotlight, basking in the glow of her huge success with Flashdance … What a Feeling.
It was the title song from Adrian Lyne’s film Flashdance, and it occupied the No 1 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six weeks while topping numerous other charts around the world. This time Cara was one of the songwriters, along with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, and shared in the triumph when it won the Oscar for best original song.
It also picked up a Golden Globe and two Grammys. The film was the story of an ambitious dancer trying to win a place at an elite dance conservatory, and Cara wanted the lyric to show how the character is “in control of her body when she dances and how she can be in control of her life”. She added: “I did sense that I had something special with this song.”