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Noted composer, arranger, and accordionist, Sivuca developed a very successful international solo career after having performed with Baden Powell, Toots Thielemans, Chiquinho do Acordeon, Radamés Gnattali, Rosinha de Valença, Waldir Azevedo, Harry Belafonte, and Miriam Makeba, among many others. As a composer, Sivuca wrote the classics "Adeus, Maria Fulô" (with Humberto Teixeira), "João e Maria" (with Chico Buarque), and had hits with "Feira de Mangaio" (with his wife Glorinha Gadelha) recorded by Clara Nunes and "No Tempo dos Quintais" (with Paulo Tapajós). His partners were artists such as Paulinho Tapajós, Paulo César Pinheiro, Luís Bandeira, Armandinho, Hermeto Pascoal, and Chiquinho do Acordeon.
Having taken the accordion very early, at nine Sivuca was already playing for a living in fairs and parties. Six years later, he moved to Recife (Pernambuco), where he debuted at the Rádio Guararapes. Hired by the Rádio Clube de Pernambuco, Sivuca performed in that outing for three years, both in solo acts and as a member of its regional, switching to Rádio Jornal do Comércio in 1948. There he learned music theory with the other musicians of the orchestra and then with its newly appointed conductor, Guerra-Peixe. Carmélia Alves, touring Recife in 1949, discovered him and brought him to São Paulo, where he backed her up in a recording that same year. In São Paulo, Sivuca was hired by the Rádio Record and in 1951, he recorded his first album with the choros "Tico-Tico no Fubá" (Zequinha de Abreu) and "Carioquinha no Flamengo" (Waldir Azevedo/Bonfiglio de Oliveira). With the international success enjoyed by the baião in the '50s and the consequent need of good Northeastern music and instrument players, Sivuca's career gathered momentum as he was the right man in the right moment and place. Still in 1951, he accompanied Carmélia Alves on the medley "No Mundo do Baião" and recorded his second solo album with the frevo "Frevo dos Vassourinhas Número 1" (Matias da Rocha) and the baião "Sivuca no Baião" (Luíz Gonzaga/Humberto Teixeira). In the next year, he started to record originals with the choros "Entardecendo" and "Choro Baixo" (with Luís Bandeira), recording in the next year his baião "Feijoada." At the same time, Sivuca realized solo performances in São Paulo backed by his regional and also by the orchestras led by Hervê Cordovil and Gabriel Migliori, while he continued to perform on the Rádio Jornal do Comércio do Recife. In 1955, he was hired by the powerful nationwide network Diários Associados to work at the Rádio and TV Tupi (Rio de Janeiro), where he stayed until four years later. In 1958, as a member of Os Brasileiros, he toured Europe in one of the Brazilian Music Caravans sponsored by the Brazilian government. The group, led by conductor Guio de Morais, performed a three-month season with the Trio Iraquitã, Abel Ferreira, Pernambuco, and Dimas. In 1959, fired by Tupi for having participated in a strike for better salaries, Sivuca moved to Europe where he performed for three months with the group Brasília Ritmos (which had Waldir Azevedo as a member). After that, he was hired by a Portuguese club and then settled in Paris, France, where he lived until 1964, recording in 1962 through Barclay the LP Rendez-Vous a Rio. Having returned to Recife in 1964, in the same year he went to the U.S. with Carmen Costa, where he was invited by Miriam Makeba's husband/manager to join her group as a guitarist. Holding that position for four years, Sivuca became the director of Makeba's group and toured Africa, Europe, Asia, and America. Returning to New York in 1969, Sivuca directed the music and performed in the musical Joy, which opened in 1970. Having performed in San Francisco and Chicago, in live shows and on TV, in 1971 Sivuca was invited by Belafonte to join his group. Staying with Belafonte until 1975 as his guitarist, keyboardist, and arranger, Sivuca at the same time recorded solo albums in the U.S., including the praised Live at the Village Gate, where he interpreted "Adeus Maria Fulô." Returning to Brazil in 1977, he performed a live recorded show with Rosinha de Valença at the Teatro João Caetano (Rio de Janeiro), released as the LP Sivuca e Rosinha de Valença. In 1978, he had another hit with "João e Maria" in the recording realized by Chico Buarque and his sister Miúcha. Six years later, Sivuca recorded another memorable LP, this time shared with Chiquinho do Acordeon and with the participation of Radamés Gnattali, Sivuca e Chiquinho. In the next year, he recorded three albums in Sweden, with Chiko's Bar/Sivuca e Toots Thielemans deserving especial mention. During the '80s and '90s, his schedule slowed somewhat, although he recorded an important LP with Rildo H**a in 1987 (Sanfona e Realejo) and performed with Baden Powell in Paris in 1997.