Irene Cara Escalera (born March 18, 1959),known professionally as Irene Cara, is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. Cara sang and co-wrote the international hit song ‘Flashdance… What a Feeling’ (from the movie Flashdance), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984. Cara is also known for playing the role of Coco Hernandez in the 1980 film Fame, and for recording the film’s title song ‘Fame’, which became an international hit. Prior to her success with Fame, Cara portrayed the title character Sparkle Williams in the original 1976 musical drama film Sparkle.
Cara was born in The Bronx, New York City, the youngest of five children.Her father, Gaspar Escalera, a factory worker and retired saxophonist, was Afro-Puerto Rican,and her mother, Louise, a cinema usher, was Cuban-American. Cara has two sisters and two brothers. At the age of three, Irene Cara was one of five finalists for the “Little Miss America” pageant. She began to play the piano by ear, then studied music, acting, and dance seriously, first having dance lessons, aged five.Her performing career started on Spanish-language television, professionally singing and dancing. She made early TV appearances on the Original Amateur Hour (singing in Spanish) and Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. In 1971ÔÇô72, aged 13, she was a regular on PBS’s educational program The Electric Company, as a member of the show’s band, The Short Circus.As a child, Cara recorded a Latin-market Spanish-language record and an English Christmas album. She also appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington that also featured Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Roberta Flack.