Irene Cara, ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer, dies at 63
By Amanda Holpuch
Irene Cara, an Oscar-winning singer who performed the electric title tracks in two aspirational self-expression movies films of the 1980s, “Flashdance” and “Fame,” has died. She was 63.
Her death at her Florida home was confirmed by her publicist, Judith Moose, on Twitter on Saturday. Moose, who did not specify when Cara died, said her cause of death was “currently unknown and will be released when information is available.”
Cara, a child actor, dancer and singer, was the voice behind two of the biggest movie theme songs of the 1980s. She performed the title track from the movie “Fame” (1980), which followed a group of artsy high school students as they move through their first auditions to graduation.
In 1984, she won the Oscar for best original song as one of the writers of “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” the title song from “Flashdance” and which she also sang. The buoyant song also earned Cara a Grammy Award in 1984 for best pop vocal performance by a female, and a Golden Globe for best original song. The movie, like “Fame,” chronicled the aspirations of a young person seeking to express themselves through art — in this case, dance.
Cara was born Irene Escalera on March 18, 1959, in the New York City borough of the Bronx. She repeatedly disputed reports about her birth year, at times describing it as in 1964. Her official Twitter account says she was born in 1962. Her mother told The New York Times in 1970 that Cara, already a busy performer, was 11 years old.
Her mother, Louise Escalera, was a cashier and her father, Gaspar Escalera, was a musician and worked at a steel factory. Details on Cara’s survivors were not immediately available.
Cara grew up in New York City and attended music, acting and dance classes as a child and was said to be able to play the piano by ear at age 5. She attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, a school for child performers and children studying the arts.
As a child, she sang and danced on Spanish-language television. At 13, she was a regular on “The Electric Company,” a children’s show in the 1970s. She was also a member of its band, the Short Circus.
She stayed busy, taking roles in theater, television and film, including the title role in “Sparkle,” a 1976 film about a family of female singers in the 1960s that was remade in 2012.
Her breakout role was in the movie musical “Fame,” where she played Coco Hernandez, a student at a school modeled after the high school now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. On the film’s soundtrack, Cara sang the title track and another single, a ballad called “Out Here on My Own.”
Both songs were nominated for an Oscar in 1981. The film was nominated for several awards, and “Fame” won for both best original song and score.
She continued to act and make music into the 1990s, when she was embroiled in a legal battle with her record company over her earnings. She was awarded $1.5 million by a California jury in 1993, but Cara said she was “virtually blacklisted” by the music industry because of the dispute, People magazine reported in 2001.
In recent years, she shared songs from her catalog, including some that had not been released, on her podcast, “The Back Story.”
In an episode from July 2019, she spoke about her ballad “As Long as It Lasts,” saying it had similar qualities to “Out Here on My Own” and explaining why she connected to both songs.
“Very naked, just vocal and piano and a great lyric and a great story within the lyric, those are the kinds of songs I relate to as a songwriter,” Cara said.