As a member of Boca Livre, Zé Renato broke selling records, participated in Jon Anderson's Deseo, had songs recorded by Anderson, performed at the Summerstage Festival (New York, NY), and played with João Gilberto in Miami. The composer of hits like "Anima" (with Milton Nascimento), "Quem Tem a Viola" (with Cláudio Nucci), "Song for a Rainforest" (with Nucci), and "Toada" (with Nucci), Renato had his songs recorded by Milton Nascimento, Leila Pinheiro, Lulu Santos, Zizi Possi, Nana Caymmi, MPB-4, and Boca Livre, among others. He has also been performing with samba masters like Elton Medeiros and MPB/pop artists like Lenine and Pedro Luís.
Starting to play guitar in his teens, Zé Renato participated in festivals in the '70s and, in 1977, joined the group Cantares, recording a double single with them in 1978. In 1979, he formed with Maurício Maestro, Cláudio Nucci, and David Tygel the vocal/instrumental quartet Boca Livre, one of the most important Brazilian vocal groups. While still in the quartet, Renato launched individual projects, like his first solo album Fonte da Vida (1982), followed by Luz e Mistério (1984). In 1984, Renato started to perform in duo with Nucci, launching in the next year Pelo Sim Pelo Não. He had his songs "Pelo Sim, Pelo Não" (with Nucci/Juca Filho) and "A Hora e a Vez" (with Nucci/Ronaldo Bastos) included on the soundtrack of the major TV Globo soap opera Roque Santeiro. In the next year, he participated in the soundtrack of the TV Globo series O Tempo e o Vento as an interpreter, recording Tom Jobim's "Rodrigo, Meu Capitão" and "Dona Bibiana." Forming in 1986 Banda Zil, Renato recorded with the band the 1988 album Zil that was released in the U.S, Europe, and Japan in 1990, staying for two weeks on Billboard's Latin chats. In 1991, Zé Renato joined Al DiMeola's band, participating in the recording of the album Tirami Su, also touring U.S. and Europe with DiMeola. With Victor Biglione and Litto Nebbia, Renato recorded the album Ponto de Encontro in Argentina in 1993. Arranha-Céu, dedicated to the old Sílvio Caldas hits, was considered by critics the best album of the year and had "Mulher" included on the SBT soap opera Éramos Seis. In 2000, Renato left Boca Livre, dedicating himself after 2001 to interpret old samba classics and write sambas in the old tradition. ~ Alvaro Neder