Ernesto Ponzio was a popular violonist, director and composer of the first generation of the guardia vieja. He was only a teenager when he began performing in legendary houses, such as El Tambito and Lo de Maria La Vasca, were girls were available to dance for 3 pesos per hours. Amongst his composition is one of the oldest and most popular tangos of all times, “Don Juan” (1898).
Ernesto Ponzio was born in Buenos Aires in 1885 to a modest family of immigrants from Italy and Uruguay. His father, Antonio Ponzio, was a harpist who performed in cafes and nightclubs for a living. Having lost his father when he was 11-years-old, Ernesto lived with his uncle Vicente Ponzio who was also a musician and thought him to play the violin.
Soon enough, “El Pibe” began making a living as a musician as well, performing in trains and other public places. He was only 13-years-old when he began performing with his uncle in infamous nightclubs where tango gained a bad reputation at the end of the 19th century. His nickname El Pibe means “the kid” and remained his for the rest of his life.
Ponzio was warmly praised for his style of interpretation and quickly became a popular musician. With his friends Juan Carlos Bazán (clarinette), Eusedio Aspiazú (guitar), El tano Vicente Pecci (flauta) and other musicians, he began forming various trios and cuartetos and worked in various casas de baile including Lo de Hansen, El tambito, La casa de Laura, Lo de Mamita and La casa de Maria La Vasca.
Violent altercations were not unusual in these times and places and in 1903 Ernesto Ponzio was shot in the leg at La milonga de Pantaleón. Also he was condemned to 20 years of prison in 1912 for killing a man in a brawl in the city of Rosario.
Back in Buenos Aires after serving his time in prison, El Pibe Ernesto resumed his career as a musician. By the time he was back in 1928, tango had evolved a great deal but Ponzio never embraced the new tango. He picked up right where he had left it and with his friend Juan Carlos Bazán he formed La orquesta de la Guardia Vieja. He worked with Julio De Caro at the cine Lavalle, giving De Caro a privileged insight into the old style of interpreting tango.
Besides “Don Juan” Ponzio is the author of a dozen of tangos including “Ataniche”, “Quiero Papita”, “Viejo Taura”, “Avellaneda” and “Culpas ajenas” which was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1929 with the lyrics of Jorge Curi.
Ernesto Ponzio died suddenly in 1934 at age 49. He left no recordings besides those of the movie “Tango”.
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Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.
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