Category Archives: Biographies

Celedonio Flores

Celedonio Flores was a prolific tango lyricist of the 1920’s. Along with Pascual Contursi, he contributed to the creation of a repertoire of tango canción and to opened the way to the renovation of tango. He is the author of “Mano a manoand many other classics which were recorded by Carlos Gardel.

Celedonio Esteban Flores was born in Buenos Aires in 1896. He grew up in the center of the city near Lavalle and Tucuman; when he was 14 years-old his family moved to the neighborhood of Villa Crespo. This is where, in the style of Evaristo Carriego, he began writing poetry about ordinary facts of life in the neighborhood and the city.

As a young man and admirer of poets such as Rúben Dario and Amado Nervo, Celedonio never dreamed of becoming a writer himself. In his youth he explored many paths, studying business and then the arts and music (violin). He also competed as a lightweight boxer at the national level before he found his path.

His breakthrough came in 1920 when the newspaper Ultima hora opened a poetry contest. In a moment of wild optimism, Celedonio Flores wrote “Por la Pinta”, hoping perhaps he could win 5 pesos and have his poem published in the newspaper. This is how he attracted the attention of Carlos Gardel who turned his poem into a tango and recorded it in 1921 as “Margot”.

This unexpected success was followed shortly by another one as “Mano a mano became one of the greatest hits of Carlos Gardel in 1923.

Other well-known titles by El negro Cele include “Corrientes” y “Esmeralda”, “La mariposa”, “El bulín de la calle Ayacucho”, “Viejo smoking”, “Por qué canto así”, “Malevito”, “Canchero”, “Pan”, “Muchacho” and “La musa mistonga”. Many of those poems were musicalized and recorded by Carlos Gardel and other prominent artists including Pedro Maffia, Edgado Donato, Ignacio Corsini, Edmundo Rivero and Julio Sosa.

Celedonio Flores published two compilations entitled “Chapaleando barro” and “Cuando pasa el organito”. His poetry is characterized by the sentimentalism of the 1920’s and a clever and abundant use of lunfardo.

When the prohibition was instituted by the military dictatorship of 1943, the work of Celedonio Flores could no longer be broadcasted, recorded, printed or performed in public. Though he proposed new lyrics for “Mano a mano“, the new version was hardly ever used or recorded and he was deeply affected economically. [2]

When censureship ended 10 years later, his songs were once again recorded and performed by various artists; they remain to this day among the great classics of the tango repertoire.

However, Celedonio Flores died in 1947 at age 51, six years before the prohibition was lifted. π

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[1] Rossler, Osvaldo. Celedonio Flores. La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1981. Print.

[2] Barsky, Julián. El tango y las instituciones: De olvidos, censuras y reivindicaciones. Buenos Aires: Teseo, 2016. Online

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino was a dancer and Hollywood superstar. He is famous for a scene in the 1921 movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” where he dances the tango with Beatrice Dominguez.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella was born in 1895 in Castellaneta, Italy, of a French mother and Italian father. In 1913 he traveled to the United States in search of new opportunities and this is where he learned to dance the tango, possibly with Casimiro Aín.

These were the years when tangomania was taking over New York. Valentino worked as a taxi dancer in restaurants such as Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret where dancing tea parties were held in the British fashion. In 1917 he was entangled in a scandal with a married woman which led him to leave the city. This is how he began traveling and working with theatrical companies which took him to the west coast.

After traveling for a few months Valentino settled in Los Angeles where he worked as a dance teacher. He began looking for work as an actor and landed his first major role playing Julio Desnoyers in the silent movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, the 1921 movie where we can see him performing the tango in his gaucho attire. [2]

Valentino’s good looks and seductive attitude on the dance floor made a strong impression on the american public and quickly turned him into a superstar. [1] The popularity of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and the so called “latin lover” was such that men were seen wearing gel in their hair and young people were suddenly interested in learning to dance the tango.

With his wife Natacha Rambova, Valentino toured the country to perform the exotic dance in his own particular style. He also pursued his career as a Hollywood actor and was starred in fourteen films including The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle, and The Son of the Sheik before he died in 1926 following a surgery. He was only 31-year-old.  π

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[1] GROPPA, Carlos G. The tango in the United states. Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc. 2004. Print.

[2] QUIN, Eleanor. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). Turner Classic Movies. Online. 

Pascual Contursi

Pascual Contursi was a guitarist, singer, playwright and innovative song writer of the early guardia nueva. He is known as the author of the first tango canción or tango song, Mi noche triste“, recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917.

Contursi was born in Chivilcoy, province of Buenos Aires, in 1888. He grew up in the neighbourhood of San Cristobal and began singing and writing poetry in his youth. In 1914 he traveled to Montevideo where he began writing lyrics for popular tangos and performing them in public to earn a living.

Before Contursi, tango lyrics had been composed by other performers including Ángel Villodo and Alfredo Gobbi, but the lyrics of the guardia vieja tended to be more rudimentary and often reflected the rough reality of life in the streets and nightclubs of early century Buenos Aires. With Pascual Contursi, tango lyrics began to develop into decent popular songs with deeper characters and more complex story lines.

One day in Montevideo, Contursi presented his best tango, Mi noche triste,” to a popular cantor de estilos or singer of what we would call today folk songs. Carlos Gardel did not have any tango in his repertoire at that time, but he liked this particular one and he decided to record it in 1917.

That same year, Mi noche triste became a huge success in Buenos Aires as a part of a theatrical piece, a sainete entitled “Los Dientes del perro”. The success of Contursi’s tango was such that other authors immediately began to explore the genre and a new style of tango poetry quickly emerged.

Back in Buenos Aires, Contursi continued writing sainetes and composing tangos lyrics. He is the author of over 40 tango including “Champagne tango”, “Ivette”, “Flor de fango”, “El motivo”, “Ventanita de arrabal”, “De vuelta al bulin”, “La biblioteca” and “Si supieras”,  many of which were recorded by Carlos Gardel.

Contursi was a humble man and his poetry was written in a simple style. Most of his work revolves around a certain number of recurrent themes and characters which became archetypes of tango poetry for years to come.

Contursi traveled to Europe in the 1920s. He lived in France and Spain where he enjoyed his success until his mental condition deteriorated due to an untreated case of syphilis. He died in Buenos Aires in 1932 at age 44.  π

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[1] Pelletieri, Osvaldo. Siempre Contursi. La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1981.  Print.

[2] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Librerias Libertador, 2002. Print.

[3] Astarita, Gaspar. Pascual Contursi, vida y obra. La campana, 1981. Print.

Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was a composer and bandoneon player of the vanguardia. He is famous for incorporating elements of classical and jazz music into Argentine tango. He is one of the main creators of a new style of tango known as tango nuevo.

Piazzola was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata. He grew up in New York City where his family moved when he was only 3 years-old. His father loved tango music and when he found a small bandoneon in a shop one day he bought it for him. This is how Piazzolla began playing the bandoneon when he was only 9 years-old.

When Carlos Gardel came to New York City in 1934 he could hardly speak English. Astor Piazzolla became his little friend and interpreter. This is how he ended up playing a small role as a boy in the movie “El dia que me quieras”. Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour but Piazzolla’s father refused as Piazzola was still very young. Gardel and his entourage died in a plane crash in Columbia one year later.

In 1936 the family returned to Argentina and Piazzolla began playing in traditional tango orchestras in Buenos Aires. He worked with Anibal Troilo for 5 years and with Francisco Fiorentino for two weeks before he formed his own orchestra in 1946 and began composing for movies.

In the early 1950’s Piazzolla decided to distance himself from tango and he went to Paris to study classical music at the Fontainbleau conservatory where he found his true identity as a musician. Back in Buenos Aires, he formed his controversial Octeto Buenos Aires, adding a cello and electric guitar to the traditional orquesta típica.

Piazzolla continued composing and developing his style throughout the 70’s and 80’s in spite of financial difficulties and strong criticism against his work. He is now known as one of the most important musicians of the history of Argentina.

Piazzolla died in 1992 shortly after dictating his memoirs to Natalio Gorin. π

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[1] Gorin, Natalio. Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir. Alba Editoral, 2003. Print.

Evaristo Carriego

Evaristo Carriego was an obscure young poet of the early 1900’s. His name became associated to the origins of tango through the work of Jorge Luis Borges who saw in him the creator of the urban style of poetry now associated to tango. Though Carriego was never an acclaimed writer nor a man of tango, he became legend and his name gained the power to evoke the spirit of the city, the old neighborhood and the mysterious root and essence tango itself.

Evaristo Francisco Estanislao Carriego was born in the province of Entre Rios in 1883. His family moved to Buenos Aires when he was only four-years-old. The Evaristo Carriego house on Honduras street is where Evaristo grew up and lived until his death in 1912.

Living in late 19th centruy Palermo, Carriego witnessed all of the roughness of life in a neighbourhood populated by poor uprooted immigrants. The cuchilleros and the compadritos, the organito and the so deeply regretted woman, all of these elements now associated to the mythical bajofondo and birthplace of tango were his universe. It was the reality that amazed him and inspired him to write poetry.

Little is know about the life of Evaristo Carriego besides what Jorges Luis Borges wrote about him. [1] Borges knew Carriego personally as a neighbor and a friend of his father. [3] He remember being strongly impressed by the presence of the poet and was deeply touched by his depictions of the Buenos Aires he knew in his childhood.

According to Borges, Carriego was a very sensitive and introvert young man. He used to hang out in literary cafes and marveled at simple facts of everyday life. This plain and simple observation of an humble man’s life in his ordinary and often merciless urban environment became a constant thread of tango poetry. It remains present and continues to build up and evolve through the works as many other authors from Angel Villoldo to Homero Manzi and Horacio Ferrer.

Evaristo Carriego died of tuberculosis in 1912 at age 29. In his short lifetime he left one published book entitled “Misas herejes”. “El alma del suburbio” and “La canción del barrio” where he develops the themes he is known for today were published after his death.

The house where he lived on Honduras street was bought by the city of Buenos Aires in 1977 to host a museum and library. La Bibliotheca Evaristo Carriego was opened to the public in 1981 and became home to over 5 500 documents in print and electronic formats including various collections of poetry. It closed in 2013 for renovations and remains closed to this day. [2]

Other important tributes to the poet include a piece by Astor Piazzolla entitled “Milonga Carrieguera” and a tango by Eduardo Ravira, “A Evaristo Carriego”, recorded by Pugliese in 1969. There is a street in Palermo named after him.

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[1] Borges, Jorge Luis. Evaristo Carriego. Buenos Aires. Emece, 1989. Print.

[2] Ordenan reconstruir la casa donde vivio Evaristo Carriego. La Nacion, March 27, 2014. Online. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1675640-ordenan-reconstruir-la-casa-donde-vivio-evaristo-carriego

[3] Borges, Jorge Luis. El tango: cuatro conferencias. Buenos Aires. Sudamericana, 2016. Print.

[4] Domingo, Luis Hernández. Frontera, llanura, patria: Un otro Borges. Anales de la Literatura Hispanoamericana, 1999. 28: 731-744. Online. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=52363

Juan Maglio

Juan Maglio, also known as “Pacho”, was a popular bandoneonista, director and composer of the guardia vieja. He was among the first tango musicians to adopt the bandoneon along with Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Arturo Bernstein. He contributed to popularize tango in Buenos Aires cafes in the 1910’s and composed many titles still present in today’s repertoire.

Juan Felix Maglio was born in Palermo in 1880 to a family of Italian immigrants. Together they moved to Boedo when he was 12-years-old. His father Pantaleón owned a concertina and used to perform in cafes in the neigbourhood and this is how Pacho first came in contact with tango.

After completing primary school Juan Maglio studied to become a mechanic and began learning to play the bandoneon on his spare time. He studied with Domingo Santa Cruz and eventually made a decision to dedicate himself to music.

In 1899 Juan Maglio began performing at the cafe El Vasco en Barracas and other cafes in the neighborhoods of San Telmo and Palermo. [3] By 1910 he was well known in the city and with his cuarteto he began to play at the cafe La Paloma and other cafes along avenida Corrientes. In 1912 he began recording for Columbia and his discs were so popular that a special label was created for him with his picture and signature. The other members of his cuarteto at that time were Luciano Rios (guitar), Carlos “Hernani” Macchi (flute) and Jose “Pepino” Bonano (violin).

His first composition was “El zurdo” followed shortly after by “Armenonville”. Other compositions by Juan Maglio Pacho include “La pareja”, “Margot”, “Sabedo ingles”, “Un copetin” and “Toma mate”.

With all his success Juan Maglio was eventually in a position to buy the cafe Ambos mundos where he used to play. He also invested in his recording company but lost everything during the war. Having lost his fortune he went on performing in cafes, carnivals, theaters and on the radio for the rest of his life. [2] In the 1920’s he created a sexteto where 15-year-old Anibal Troilo made his debut. He also founded a trio of bandoneon with Jose and Luis Servidio. Some of his work was signed with the pseudonym Oglima.

Juan Maglio continued performing tango in an old fashion manner until the end of his career. He died in 1934 leaving almost 900 recordings. π

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[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. II). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[3] Gobello, Jose. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Buenos Aires: Centro editor de Cultura Argentina, 2002. Print.

Ángel Villoldo

Ángel Villoldo was a musician, signer and composer of the early guardia vieja. He contributed to popularize tango in Buenos Aires cafes in the 1900’s and is regarded as the father of tango. Some say he was among the first to bring tango to Europe along with Alfredo and Flora Gobbi. [1] He is also the composer of one of the oldest and most famous tango of all times, “El Choclo”.

Ángel Gregorio Villodo Arroyo was born in Buenos Aires in 1868 in the neighborhood of Barracas. In his youth he worked at many different jobs and learned to play the guitar and harmonica in his spare time. Around 1900 he made a name for himself as a payador and began performing tango as well.

Villoldo was the most important tango lyricist of the guardia vieja. [2] His texts were not of sentimental nature like those of Pascual Contursi and other poets of the guardia nueva. They were more closely related to the folk songs of the interior of the country. However they did bring tango on step toward the creation of it’s own identity by presenting urban scenes and characters of the arrabal such as the compadritos and cuchilleros now so strongly associate to the origins of tango.

Villoldo composed over 70 tangos, the first of which was “El Porteñito”, followed shortly after by “El Choclo” (1903). He also wrote lyrics for “La Morocha” by Enrique Saborido and “El Entreriano” by Rosendo Mendizábal. His songs were interpreted by himself and other signers including Dora Miramar, Linda Thelma, Flora Rodriguez, Lea Conti and Pepita Avellaneda. [2]

It is said that Ángel Villoldo traveled to Paris to record for Gath y Chaves and that he contributed to popularize tango in Europe. According to Hector Benedetti however there is no evidence that Viollodo did travel to Paris and these recordings are nowhere to be found. [3]

Back in Buenos Aires, Villoldo played in cafes near the corner of Suarez and Necochea in the neighbourhood of La Boca. There an increasing number of tango musicians such as Vicente Greco, Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo were also performing in 1908. [2]

Villoldo published a compilation of Argentine folk songs in 1889 and another compilation of popular Argentinean songs in 1916. [1] He died in Buenos Aires in 1919 at age 51.

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[1] Pinsón, Néstor. “Biographía de Ángel Villoldo.” Todotango.com. Web. Aug 2016.

[2] Pesce ,Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[3] Benedetti, Hector Angel. “La tienda Gath & Chavez tambien publicó discos.” Todotango.com. Web. Aug 2016.