Category Archives: Biographies

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.

Ástor Piazzolla

Ástor Piazzolla was an internationally renown bandoneon player, composer and orchestra director of the vanguardia. He is famous for incorporating elements of classical music and jazz to Argentine tango thus contributing to the development of tango nuevo. Some of his most famous compositions include “Adios Nonino” (1959), “Balada para un loco” (1969), Libertango (1974) and Oblivion (1984).

Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata. He grew up in New York City where his family moved when he was 3 years-old. His father, Vicente Piazzolla, was very fond of tango music and bought him a small bandoneon when he was 9 years-old.

When Carlos Gardel came to New York in 1934, Vicente sent his son to deliver a gift. Gardel, who didn’t speak any English, adopted little Piazzolla as a guide and interpreter around the city and got him to appear in the movie “El dia que me quieras” as a newspaper boy. Their complicity was such that Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour, but the father refused to let him go. Gardel and his entourage died in a plane crash in Columbia shortly after.

When his family returned to Argentina in 1936, Piazzolla began playing in traditional tango orchestras. He became a regular at the Café Germinal where he could watch Anibal Troilo perform over and over again until one day he was invited to join the orchestra. There he remained for 5 years, playing for Troilo and making room for himself as an arranger.

Though Troilo was progressist in many ways and gave Piazzolla some space to innovate, this was not nearly enough for Piazzolla who wanted to see tango evolve in a more radical way. He formed his own orchestra in 1946 and began exploring more freely with the sound of a tango nuevo. Yet again, he felt restrained in this culture of dancehalls and traditional tango.  With the golden age still in full swing, Piazzolla was way ahead in his mind and unable to find his place in existing  conditions.

In an attempt to escape from what he perceived as an inmutable institution, Piazzolla moved to Paris in the early 1950’s to study classical music at the conservatory of Fontainbleau. His intention was to distance himself from tango and the unbearable limitations it imposed on his idea of music. And this is where, with the help of Nadia Boulanger, he finally discovered his real voice and true connection to the music of Buenos Aires.

Back in Argentina, Piazzolla formed his controversial Octeto Buenos Aires, a not so typical orchestra which had the peculiarity of incorporating  a cello and electric guitar, as well as elements of swing and other alterations which would earn him a fair amount of criticism. In 1958 he spent some time in New York and recorded with his first Quinteto. Back again in Argentina, he formed the Quiteto Nuevo Tango and continued experimenting with various bands such as the Nuevo Octeto and Sexteto Nuevo Tango.

True to his vision, Piazzolla persevered in spite of harsh criticism, rejection and financial difficulties. But his success on the international scene was phenomenal, and soon enough he conquered Argentina as well.

Astor Piazzolla was declared  Ciudadano ilustre de Buenos Aires in 1985 and received a Premio Konex for his contribution to the music of Argentina. He died in 1992, shortly after dictating his memoirs to Natalio Gorin. That same year he received a posthumous Grammy Award for Oblivion . The airport of Mar del Plata where he was born was named “Aeropuerto Internacional Astor Piazzolla” in 2008.

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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, also known as the “father of tango”, was a musician, singer and composer of the first generation of the guardia vieja.  As a performer he contributed to the popularization of tango in the early 1900’s. He is the composer of one of the oldest and most famous tangos of all times, “El Choclo” (1903).

Ángel Gregorio Villodo Arroyo was born in Buenos Aires in 1868 in Barracas. In his youth he worked at many different jobs and learned to play the guitar and harmonica in his free time. Around 1900 he made a name for himself as a performer in the cafes of La Boca, contributing greatly to popularize tango where the payada was still dominating. Heis also remembered for his performances at the prestigious Restaurante 3 de Febrero in Palermo where his tango “El esquinazo” made a lasting impression.

An interesting fact about Villodo is that he was the most important tango lyricist of the guardia vieja. At a time when tango was merely and instrumental affair, he began writing lyrics which were inspired by the poetry the urban payador. These are not the sentimental tangos of Pascual contursi and the guardia nieva but they do lay the foundation for His tangos are the kind which describe the life in the city and anecdotes involving the compadritos and cuchilleros we now associate to the origins of tango.

Ángel Villoldo was a prolific composer with over 70 tangos in his repertoire, including “El esquinazo” (1900), “El Porteñito” (1903) and “El Choclo” (1903). He wrote lyrics for many of his own compositions as well as for “La Morocha” by Enrique Saborido and for “El Entrerriano by Rosendo Mendizábal. His songs were interpreted by himself and by other performers such Dora Miramar, Linda Thelma, Flora Rodriguez, Lea Conti and Pepita Avellaneda.

According to some, Ángel Villoldo traveled to Paris to record for Gath y Chaves and contributed to popularize tango in Europe. Others point out there is no evidence of that and no traces of these recordings.

Angel Villoldo died in Buenos Aires in 1919 at age 51.

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

El tango: Un siglo de historia (Vol. 3). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

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

Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel was a signer, guitarist, composer and actor of the early years of the guardia nueva. In the 1920’s, he played an essential role in the renovation of tango as a sentimental song. With his vision, charisma and quality of interpretation, he became an international star and a pioneer of the sound recording and filming industries. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1935 turned him into a legend, and he remains to this day the most famous and respected figure of tango history.

Charles Romuald Gardes was born in 1890 in Toulouse, France, of an unknown father. His mother, Marie Berthe Gardes, immigrated to Buenos Aires when he was still a young child. There she worked as a planchadora, ironing clothes for a living, and together they lived in poor pensions known as conventillos in the neighbourhood of San Nicolas.

Growing up near the heart of the city, Charles Gardes was impresed and attracted to the nightlife of his neighborhood. He got his first job as a claque, applauding the artists in the theaters of Avenida Corrientes. Later, in the neighbourhood of Abastos, he began signing in public with the help of his mentor, the payador José Betinotti.

In 1911, Gardes met José Razzano with whom he began performing as a duo to perform at the Café de los Angelitos. In 1912 he got his first opportunity to record for Columbia under the name of Carlos Gardel.

The Gardel-Razzano duo began traveling to Uruguay and Brasil in 1915. This is where Gardel met the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who had a profound influence on his signing technique. Two years later, in Montevideo, he met Pascual Contursi and recorded his first tango, “Mi noche triste“, opening the way to a new area of tango poetry and singing.

Before he recorded “Mi noche triste” (1917), Gardel’s repertoire was composed of estilos, zambas, tonadas, waltz and other popular folk songs and rhythms of the world. By the time he began his solo career in 1925, he had become the voice of a new genre of tango song. He composed the music of many tangos including two of his greatest hits, “Mano a mano” (with José Razzano) and “Mi Buenos Aires querido”.

In the 1930’s Carlos Gardel produced a series of short musical movies which are regarded as some of the first video-clips in history. He was the star of many movies including “Las luces de Buenos Aires”, “Melodia de arrabal”, “Cuesta abajo”, “Tango bar” and “El dia que me quieras”.

Carlos Gardel died in 1935 in a plane crash in Medellin, Columbia, while touring south America. According to the Internet Movie Database, his voice and image appeared in over 80 movies after his death. [3] It is said that everyday he sings better.

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

[2] Cárcamo, Antonio José. Carlos Gardel discographía. Por siempre…. Gardel. Online. http://gardel.unsl.edu.ar/carcamo.htm

[3] Carlos Gardel filmography. IMDb, Online. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0306624/#composer

Francisco Canaro

Francisco Canaro was a prominent orchestra director, violinist and composer of the guardia vieja. He had a long and prolific career covering over 50 years of tango history from his early years with Vicente Greco up to the 1960’s. He recorded over 3500 tracks including 900 titles in the acoustic era only. As a composer he produced classics such as “Mano Brava”, “Sentimiento gaucho”, “La ultima copa”, “Sonar y nada mas”, “Madreselva”, “El chamuyo” and “Se dice de mi”.

Francisco Canarozzo was born in Uruguay in 1888 to a humble family of Italian immigrants. When he was 10 he began selling news papers in the streets to help sustain his family. His first violin was made out an oil can from a factory where he used to work.

With his oil can violin Francisco Canaro began performing in public for money. By 1908 he was a regular in the cafes of La Boca and he joined the orchestra of Vicente Greco with whom he made his first recording in 1911. He composed his first tango in 1912 and contributed to shaping the first orquestas tipicas by incorporating the double bass.

In 1925, Canaro was in Paris with his own orchestra. He also performed in New York and Japan. He was among the first to experiment with tango signers and to include an estribillista in his orchestra in 1924. Some of the signers most identified with him in his early years are Charlo and Ada Falcon, a woman with whom he had a notorious love affair.

Another important aspect of Canaro’s career was his involvement in the film industry as a composer, actor and producer. In 1934 he founded his own production company, Rio de la Plata, which produced 11 movies but without much success. He also fought for copyrights and founded the Argentine Society of Composers and Songwriters (SADAIC).

According to José Gobello, Canaro is the second most important figure of tango after Carlos Gardel. He published his memoirs in 1956  and died of Paget’s disease in 1964.

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Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977.
Canaro, Fransicso. Mis memorias: Mis bodas de oro con el tango. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1999. Print.
El tango: Un siglo de historia (Vol III). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992.
Gobello, Jose. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Buenos Aires: Centro editor de Cultura Argentina, 2002.