So many great musicians, so little time.
Are you getting the sense that Cuba has produced a lot of great musicians?
Keep in mind that in this series we’re only able to show the tip of the tip of the iceberg and we’re still nowhere near covering all the ABCs.
Today we focus on the incomparable Benny Moré: singer, bandleader, composer.
Let’s start with the end: When Moré passed away at the too-early age of 43 in 1963 in Havana, over 100,000 fans attended his funeral.
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré started life in a rural town in central Cuba. Family lore says his maternal great-great grandfather was the son of the king of a Congo tribe.
At 17, he cut sugar cane and sold fruit and medicinal herbs and used his earnings to buy his first real guitar.
Rising slowly up the show business ladder in Havana, a gig brought him to Mexico City where he changed his name to “Benny” and decide to stay awhile. In time he hooked up with Pérez Prado and appeared on 22 recordings as the singer for Prado’s orchestra.
As we’ve pointed out in the bio of Prado those were heady, prosperous days for Cuban musicians in Mexico City which in addition to being a big market unto itself was an ideal launching pad into the greater Latin American music market.
In 1952, after establishing his fame throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, Moré returned home to Cuba where, surprisingly, he was not well known. Radio appearance and public performances helped change that.
When Moré put together his legendary Banda Gigante (Big Band) it was a near-instant hit. It was so popular that in addition to playing to sold out crowds throughout Cuba, he toured Latin America and the US where the band was invited to play at the Oscars. At home in Havana, the band dominated two of the city’s key music spots: La Tropical and El Sierra.
Though he never learned to read or write music, Moré was able to convey what he wanted to his arrangers by singing the parts to them.
After the Revolution, Moré unwilling to leave “mi gente” (my people), remained in Cuba until his death in 1963.
Note: There are a wide variety of opinions as to who the piano player is in this clip. If anyone knows for sure (fact, not opinion please), we’d love to know and will publish it here.
1. “Me Voy Pa’ Moron”
4. “El Baile del Sillon”
5. “Montura y Caballo”
7. “Baila Mi Son”
8. “Bonito y Sabrosa”
– Ken McCarthy
Jazz on the Tube
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