Irene Cara walked her own path with a defiant smile. The versatile singer, songwriter, and actress died over the weekend at the age of 63 at her Florida home.
At times, Cara exhibited a Broadway-trained, showbiz DNA that seemed more aligned with singer Barbara Streisand than queen of soul Aretha Franklin. Yet she never shied away from her true superpower: the ability to transform slick early ’80s, headband-adorned anthems into uplifting statements that felt like spiritual testimony.
“I’m gonna make it to heaven/Light up the sky like a flame,” Cara proclaimed on her 1980 debut single, Fame, from director Alan Parker’s Oscar-nominated musical of the same name. The film followed the trials, tribulations and triumphs of students at New York’s legendary High School of the Performing Arts (now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts). Cara’s work on Fame earned her a top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, two Oscar nominations (including for the piano ballad “Out Here on My Own”) and Grammy Awards for best female pop vocal performance and best original new artist. And she proved to be more than just a singer who dared you to take your eyes off her during the post-disco “Hot Lunch Jam” rave-up and Fame’s landmark street dance sequence.