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Beny Moré is the greatest singer of popular music Cuba has ever produced. Think Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole and you'll get an idea of how he's perceived in Cuba, and how he should be regarded elsewhere. In the nearly half century since his death, no Cuban vocalist has emerged to fill his shoes, and he remains as close as ever to the hearts of the Cuban people. Few singers in this hemisphere have consistently matched his interpretive gifts, vocal virtuosity, and comfort with a range of styles.
Moré's genius lay in his synthesis of two of the major currents of Cuban song -- Afro-Cuban son and the Spanish-derived guajiro music of the Cuban countryside. He owed at least some of his singing style to a series of soneros who preceded him: Antonio Machin, Miguelito Valdes, and Orlando "Cascarita" Guerra. Moré's intimacy with both the African and European elements in Cuban music allowed him to be comfortable in all different styles. He was equally successful with boleros as with mambos and rhumbas. Most important is what he conveyed with his singing: a tenderness and direct emotional appeal in his boleros, a hip-shaking exuberance in his mambos. Though he could not read music, Moré composed two of his smash hits, "Bonito y Sabroso" and "Que Bueno Baila Usted." He also doubled as a bandleader and assembled a powerful big band comprised of talented musicians like trumpeters Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar and Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, and trombonist and arranger Generoso "El Tojo" Jimenez. His was the quintessential Afro-Cuban big-band sound of the 1950s: brash, multi-textured, dynamic. But unlike New York bands like Machito & His Afro-Cubans, Moré was not pushing the boundaries of Latin jazz. His music was more "pop" than Machito's, but it was anything but formulaic.
Born Bartolome Maximiliano Moré in 1919 in the village of Santa Isabel de Las Lajas in Las Villas Province, Cuba, Moré left for Havana as a teenager and for several years worked a variety of odd jobs while performing as a street singer in the city's port area. His big break came in 1945, when he accompanied the Miguel Matamoros conjunto to Mexico. In the late '40s, Mexico City was a magnet for Cuban entertainers seeking to make it big in the Mexican film industry. After touring Mexico, Matamoros returned to Cuba, but Moré decided to stay behind. Before leaving, Matamoros counseled Moré to change his name since "bartolo" meant donkey in Mexican slang. Rechristened Beny Moré, in a year or two he was discovered by Mario Rivera Conde, the director of RCA Victor Mexico, who paired him with a series of high-caliber orchestras, including those of Perez Prado and Mexican composer Raphael De Paz.
Moré's early recordings in Mexico include a balance of uptempo tunes and ballads; this proportion changed in favor of ballads when he finally fronted his own band. What's striking about the early sessions is the consistent quality and tastefulness of the orchestral accompaniment. Moré sings with five different orchestras on these sessions, yet there are few jarring contrasts. The Perez Prado orchestra is an exception to this rule; Prado's flailing piano style and trademark grunts jar in a marvelous, amphetamine-driven way. Rivera Conde's pairing of Prado and Moré was a masterstroke and produced some of the most high-energy recordings of Moré's career. Moré sang some of his most memorable songs while on his Mexican sojourn -- "Bonito y Sabroso," "San Fernando," "Donde Estabas Tu" -- with the Raphael De Paz Orchestra. But perhaps Moré's best-known song, the bolero "Como Fue," was recorded with neither Prado nor De Paz, but with the orchestra of Ernesto Duarte. "Como Fue" was included in the soundtrack of the film Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, where it added authenticity to an otherwise watery collection of Latin music.
Moré returned to Cuba in 1953 and assembled his own big band, with whom he crisscrossed Cuba until his death. Moré was intensely loyal to his musicians, referring to them as his tribu (tribe). Because he always insisted on having a large band, he was known to have gone out of pocket on his RCA recordings to pay his men. They responded by embellishing his songs with subtle, ornate orchestral playing. While Moré continued to record uptempo smash hits such as "Francisco Guayabal" and "Que Bueno Baila Usted," he focused on boleros, a natural showcase for his vocal and interpretive gifts. Moré had a signature vocal technique, a sort of glissando, that he used everywhere in varying forms. Typically, he would hold a note, then slide up the scale to a higher note and hold it there for a few seconds. It's an impressive, exciting device, and he uses it to build drama on boleros like "Tu Me Sabes Comprender" and "No Puedo Callar." A less frequently used but equally distinctive technique was Moré's seagull squawk, which he includes at the finale of the uptempo "Soy Campesino."
It is unfortunate that Moré never brought his outstanding band to record or perform in the United States, even though he was active during one of the rare moments in U.S. pop music history when authentic Cuban music was in demand. Moré decided to stay in Cuba after the Revolution, but he didn't live long, a victim of his love for rum. All rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Beny Moré finally succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver on February 19, 1963, in Havana. Moré's recorded output was relatively small, cut short as it was by his premature death. In 1992, BMG Music released the majority of Moré's 1948-1958 recordings for RCA Victor on five CDs for its Tropical Series. Moré never recorded for anyone other than RCA, so all his hits are here. Nevertheless, his earliest recordings with the Miguel Matamoros conjunto are missing, and only some of his songs with the Perez Prado orchestra are included. From a technical standpoint, the discs are terrific (they sound as if they were made yesterday), but three of the five albums have no liner notes to speak of and information about session dates and personnel is either very sketchy or nonexistent, which is shabby treatment indeed for an artist of Beny Moré's stature. Moré's great legacy, though, is clear on the recordings themselves: a voice that can evoke memories of lost romance, or make you dance with joyous abandon.
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez (24 August 1919 – 19 February 1963), known as Benny Moré, was a famous Cuban singer. Due to his fluid tenor voice and his great expressivity, he was known variously as El Bárbaro del Ritmo and El Sonero Mayor. Moré was a master of most Cuban popular genres, such as the son montuno, mambo, guaracha, and bolero. Moré formed and led the Banda Gigante, one of the leading Cuban big bands of the 1950s, until his death in 1963.Radanovich, John (2009). Wildman of Rhythm: The Life and Music of Benny Moré. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813033938.
The eldest of eighteen children, Benny Moré was born in Santa Isabel de las Lajas in the former province of Las Villas, current Cienfuegos Province, in central Cuba. His maternal great-great grandfather, Ta Ramón Gundo Paredes, was said to be the son of the king of a tribe in the Congo who was captured by slave traders and sold to a Cuban plantation owner (he was later liberated and died as a freeman at age 94). As a child, Benny learned to play the guitar, making his first instrument at age six, according to his mother, out of a board and a ball of string. In 1936, at age seventeen, he left Las Lajas for Havana, where he lived by selling bruised and damaged fruits and vegetables and medicinal herbs. Six months later he returned to Las Lajas and went to cut cane for a season with his brother Teodoro. With the money he earned and Teodoro's savings, he bought his first decent guitar.
ContentsCareer1.1 Trío Matamoros and Mexico1.2 Return to Cuba1.3 La Banda Gigante
In 1940, Moré returned to Havana. He lived from hand-to-mouth, playing in bars and cafés, passing the hat. His first breakthrough was winning a radio competition. In the early 1940s, the radio station CMQ had a program called "The Supreme Court of Art" in which a wide variety of artists participated. Winners were given contracts by unscrupulous businessmen who exploited them. The less fortunate were treated to the humiliation of a loud church bell which brutally terminated their performances.
In his first appearance, Moré had scarcely begun to sing when the bell sounded. He later competed again and won first prize. He then landed his first stable job with the Cauto conjunto led by Mozo Borgellá. He also sang with success on the radio station CMZ with the sextet Fígaro of Lázaro Cordero. In 1941, he made his debut on Radio Mil Diez performing with the Cauto Sextet of Mozo Borguella.
Trío Matamoros and Mexico
Ciro Rodríguez, of the famed Trío Matamoros, heard Moré singing in the bar El Temple and was greatly impressed. In 1942, Conjunto Matamoros was engaged for a live performance for the station 1010. However, Miguel Matamoros was indisposed and asked Mozo Borgellá (director of Septeto Cauto), to lend him a singer. Borguellá sent Moré, who remained several years with the Matamoros, making a number of recordings.
Moré replaced Miguel Matamoros as lead singer, and the latter dedicated himself to leading the band. On 21 June 1945, he went with Conjunto Matamoros to Mexico, where he performed in two of the most famous cabarets of the age, the Montparnasse and the Río Rosa. He made several recordings. Conjunto Matamoros returned to Havana, but Moré remained in Mexico. Rafael Cueto said to him: "Fine, but just remember that they call burros "bartolo" here. Stay, but change your name." "Ok," replied Moré, "from now on my name is Beny, Beny Moré." Moré was left penniless and got permission to work from the performing artists' union. With this, he was able to get a job at the Río Rosa, where he formed the duet Dueto Fantasma with Lalo Montané.
In Mexico City, Moré made recordings for RCA Victor, with Perez Prado: Bonito y sabroso, Mucho corazón, Pachito Eché, La múcura, Rabo y oreja and other numbers. He recorded Dolor Karabalí, which Moré considered his best composition recorded with Pérez Prado, one he never wanted to re-record, also his recording in Mexico with Rafael de Paz Orchestra of "Bonito y Sabroso" was never recorded again by More, even though his famous composition of the months prior to leaving Mexico became in time the theme of his big band in Cuba. More was always reluctant to record newer versions of his hit songs, as he thought "you don't fix what's not broken". There were at least 22 recordings of Moré with the Prado orchestra.
Moré also recorded with the orchestra of Mariano Mercerón: "Me voy pal pueblo" y "Desdichado", "Mucho Corazon","Ensalada de Mambo", "Rumberos de Ayer"and "Encantado de la Vida" with "El Conjunto de Lalo Montaner", a Colombian singer and composer, with which he recorded in Mexico, conforming a famous duo called "The Phantom Duet" or "Dueto Fantasma". He also recorded with Mexican orchestras, specially with the one directed by Rafael de Paz; they recorded Yiri yiri bon, La Culebra, Mata siguaraya, Solamente una vez and Bonito y Sabroso, a mambo song where he praises the dancing skills of the Mexicans and claims that Mexico City and La Habana are sister cities. In this time Benny also recorded with the orchestra of Jesús "Chucho" Rodríguez. El "Chucho" was so impressed with Benny's musical ability that he referred to him as "El Bárbaro del Ritmo".
Return to Cuba
During the spring of 1952,around April, Moré returned to Cuba. He was a star in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and Puerto Rico, but virtually unknown on the island. His first Cuban recordings were with Mariano Merceron & his Orchestra, songs like "Fiesta de Tambores", "Salomon", "La Chola", etc. Moré began alternating between performances in the Cadena Oriental and trips to Havana to record at the RCA studios in CMQ Radiocentro.
In Havana, Moré worked for the radio station RHC Cadena Azul, with the orchestra of Bebo Valdés, who introduced the new style called "batanga". The presenter of the show, Ibraín Urbino, presented him as El Bárbaro del Ritmo. They offered him the opportunity to record with Sonora Matancera, but he declined the offer because he didn't care for the sound of the group. After the batanga fell out of fashion, Moré was contracted by Radio Progreso with the orchestra of Ernesto Duarte Brito. In addition to the radio, he also performed at dances, cabarets and parties. When he sang in Havana's Centro Gallego, people filled the sidewalks and the gardens of the Capitolio to hear him. In 1952, Moré made a recording with the Orquesta Aragón with whom he would perform in dance halls. Orquesta Aragón was from Cienfuegos and was having trouble breaking into Havana and Moré helped them in this way.
La Banda Gigante
The first performance of Moré's Banda Gigante (Big Band) was in the program Cascabeles Candado of the station CMQ. The Banda was generally sixteen musicians, comparable in size with the orchestras of Xavier Cugat and Pérez Prado. Although Moré could not read music, he arranged material by singing parts to his arrangers.
In the years 1953 and 1955, the Banda Gigante became immensely popular. In 1956 and 1957, it toured Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Mexico and the United States, where the group played at the Oscar ceremonies. In Havana, it played at the dance halls La Tropical and El Sierra. In 1960, it started performing both night and day.
Moré was offered a tour of Europe – France in particular – but he rejected it because of fear of flying (he had by that time been in three air accidents).
The following musicians were its original members:Piano: Cabrerita; Saxophones: Miguel Franca, Santiaguito Peñalver, Roberto Barreto, Celso Gómez and Virgilio; Trumpets: Chocolate, Rabanito and Corbacho; Trombone: Generoso "Tojo" Jiménez, José Miguel; Bass: Alberto Limonta; Batería (Drums): Rolando Laserie; Bongos: Clemente Piquero "Chicho"; Congas: Tabaquito; Vocals: Fernando Alvarez and Enrique Benitez. 1992: El Barbaro del Ritmo: Mambos by Beny Moré with Pérez Prado and his orchestra. Tumbao Cuban Classics TCD-010. Diccionario de la Música Cubana
In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, many of Cuba's top musical figures emigrated, but Moré stayed in Cuba, among, as he said, "mi gente" (my people).
Moré was an alcoholic, and began to show signs of liver failure in his early 40s. When he died in 1963 of cirrhosis of the liver, an estimated 100,000 fans attended his funeral. He was 43 years old.
Awards and recognition
On 11 June 2006, Moré was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame at Celia Cruz Park in Union City, New Jersey, a heavily Cuban-American community that has hosted musical presentations and multimedia lectures on the singer.
Moré is remembered in the 2006 film, El Benny, which is based on parts of his life, and includes new versions of his songs performed by musicians including Chucho Valdés, Juan Formell and Orishas.Rosero, Jessica. "Viva la comunidad Cubano: North Hudson celebrates at the annual Cuban Day Parade" Hudson Reporter, 18 June 2006. Bartlett, Kay. "Little Havana on the Hudson", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 June 1977; archived at Google News and accessed 31 March 2011. Hope, Bradley. "Havana on Hudson Reverberates After Castro's Operation", The New York Sun, 2 August 2006; accessed 25 June 2007. "Several of the group's leaders sat in chairs around the union hall on a quiet street in Union City, N.J., a town minutes away from Manhattan that was once known as "Havana on the Hudson". Grenier, Guillermo J. Miami now!: immigration, ethnicity, and social change; archived at Google Books; accessed 31 March 2011. Current Events, Centro Cultural Cubano De Nueva York, accessed 15 May 2011. "Con su permiso, Benny Moré", Cuba Cuento, 12 May 2011. "BENNY MORE en presentación multimedia en Union City, NJ", El Nuevo American, 9 May 2011.