Latin American music has been very influential on American Pop Music. It is difficult to imagine the music of the 1940s and 1950s without the contagious beat of Latin music and the distinctive styles of Latin artists.
In 1944, Harold Rome wrote lyrics for a song that eventually became part of the Broadway musical, Call Me Mister. The song, South America, Take It Away poked fun at the Latin American dances that were invading the United States. His lyrics reflected what many were at least feeling at the time:
Take back your Samba, ay!, your Rumba, ay!, your Conga, ay-yi-yi!
I can’t keep movin’, ay!, my chassis, ay!, any longer, ay-yi-yi!
Now maybe Latins, ay!, in their middles, ay!, are built stronger, ay-yi-yi!
But all this takin’ to the quakin’ and this makin’ with the shakin’ leaves me achin’
First shake around and settle there
Then you shake around and settle here
Then you shake around and settle there
That’s enough, that’s enough
Take it back, my spine’s outta-whack
There’s a strange click-clack
In the back of my sacroiliac
Take back your Conga, ay!, your Samba, ay!, your Rumba, ay-yi-yi!
Why can’t you send us, ay!, a less strenu-, ay!, -ous number, ay-yi-yi!
I got more bumps now, ay!, than on a, ay!, cucumber, ay-yi-yi!
While all those Latin drums are cloppin’, like a Jumpin’ Jack I’m hoppin’ without stoppin’
South America, take it away
Okay, the song is supposed to be satirical, but if we did what the song requests; namely, we send back those songs with a Latin American beat, American popular music would not be as rich as it is.
It would be difficult to imagine American popular music without the likes of Carmen Miranda (Brazil), Xavier Cugat (Spain), Desi Arnez (Cuba), Edmundo Ros (Trinidad), the DeCastro Sisters (Cuba), Tito Puente (Puerto Rico), Pérez Prado (Cuba), Enric Madriguera (Spain), and Andy Russell (born Andrés Rabago Pérez, to parents who were Mexican immigrants of Spanish descent).
And how much richer our music is because of such Latin songs as El Choclo, The Peanut Vendor, Adelita, Green Eyes, Canto Siboney, Ay Si, Ay No, Bésame Mucho, Frenesí, South American Way, El Rancho Grande, Quiereme Mucho, Brazil, Perfidia, Chica Chica Boom Chic, Babalu, Tico Tico Carioca, Mal Hombre, La Cucaracha, Jalousie, Amapola, Tea For Two Cha-Cha-Cha, Que Rico Mambo, and Por Una Cabeza.
The 1940s and 1950s were filled with the Latin rhythms of the samba, rumba, conga, cha-cha-cha, tango, mambo, and bolero.
The last term, bolero, is the one that concerns me today. Bolero is a genre of slow-tempo Latin music and its associated dance. There are Spanish and Cuban forms that are both significant and which have separate origins. In all its forms, the bolero has been popular for over a century.
The bolero is a dance that originated in Spain in the late eighteenth century. Dancer Sebastiano Carezo is credited with inventing the dance in 1780. It is danced by either a soloist or a couple. It is in a moderately slow tempo and is performed to music that is sung and accompanied by castanets and guitars with lyrics of five to seven syllables in each of four lines per verse. It is in triple time and usually has a triplet on the second beat of each bar.
In Cuba, the bolero is perhaps the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to win universal recognition. This dance music spread to other countries, leaving behind what many believe is the most popular lyric tradition in Latin America.
The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the nineteenth century when there grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar. The Cuban bolero traveled to Mexico and to the rest of Latin America after its conception. Some of the bolero’s leading composers have come from nearby countries to Cuba, most especially the prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández, and Mexico’s Agustín Lara (Ángel Agustín María Carlos Fausto Mariano Alfonso del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Lara y Aguirre del Pino (now that’s long name!)
To mention Agustin Lara’s name is also to introduce the song, You Belong To My Heart.
You Belong To My Heart is the name of an English-language version of the Mexican bolero song Solamente una vez (Only One Time, in English}, composed by Mexican songwriter Agustín Lara and originally performed by tenor José Mojica in the 1941 film Melodías de América. After that, the original Spanish-language version was very popular in Mexico and Cuba as well as being recorded by many of the greatest bolero interpreters.
Solamente una vez was retitled You Belong to My Heart, and was featured in the Walt Disney film The Three Caballeros with English lyrics written by Ray Gilbert and sung by Dora Luz. Gilbert’s lyrics bear no similarity to Lara’s original Spanish language lyrics as you will see below.
Lara’s Spanish lyrics
Solamente una vez
Ame en la vida
Solamente una vez
Y nada mas
Una vez nada mas en mi huerto
brillo la esperanza
La esperanza que alumbra el camino
de mi soledad
Una vez nada mas
se entrega el alma
Con la dulce y total renunciación
Y cuando ese milagro realiza
el prodigio de amarse
hay campanas de fiesta que cantan
en el corazon
English Translation of Lara’s lyrics
I loved in my life,
And nothing more.
One time, nothing more, in my garden
Shone the hope,
The hope that lights the road
Of my loneliness.
Once, nothing more,
The soul surrenders,
With sweet and total renunciation.
And when that miracle fulfills
The wonder of love
There are festival bells
Singing in my heart.
Ray Gilbert’s English lyrics
You belong to my heart
Now and forever
And our love had its start
Not long ago
We were gathering stars
While a million guitars played our love song
When I said I love you
Every beat of my heart said it, too
‘Twas a moment like this
Do you remember?
And your eyes threw a kiss
When they met mine
Now we own all the stars
And a million guitars are still playing
Darling, you are the song
And you’ll always belong to my heart
Phil Brito, with Paul Lavalle’s Orchestra issued a version of You Belong To My Heart in 1944. Brito’s recording peaked at #17.
The following year, Bing Crosby and the Xavier Cugat orchestra released a version of the song. It first reached the Billboard charts on 24 May 1945, peaking at #4.
Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra also released a version of the song. It first reached the Billboard charts on 17 May 1945 and peaked at #9.
While beyond the 1945-1955 period, Elvis Presley, as part of the Million Dollar Quartet, performed a shortened version of the song, mixing Agustín Lara’s original Spanish lyrics and Ray Gilbert’s English lyrics. Singers Andy Russell, Jerry Vale, Engelbert Humperdinck and Gene Autry also recorded versions, mixing Lara’s and Gilbert’s lyrics.
To listen to a song, click on the song title. To download a song, right click on the song title, then right click on Save target as
SOLAMENTE UNA VEZ and YOU BELONG TO MY HEART
Agustin Lara Solamente Una Vez
Dora Luz (from the film, The Three Caballeros) You Belong To My Heart
Phil Brito, Paul Lavalle and Orchestra You Belong To My Heart
Bing Crosby, Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra You Belong To My Heart
Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra, vocals by Jimmy Saunders You Belong to My Heart
LATIN MUSIC FROM THIS PERIOD
The following Latin American music was very influential on American pop music in the 1940s and 1950s. I have attempted to give examples of this music by the artists who made the songs popular. My list is representative and in no way exhaustive. Some of these names will not sound familiar. In some cases, what you will hear is the first recording of a particular song. Many of the songs are still recorded by artists who are popular today. Unfortunately, to be true to the intent of my blog – to hear music from the mid-1940s to the mis-1950s – I have had to avoid giving examples of songs by such artists as Gloria Estefan, Julio Inglesis, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Linda Ronstadt, Marc Anthony, Rubén Blades, Shakira, Astrud Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim to name just a few. While these artists fit into the Latin Music genre, they were not known in the decade of 1945-1955. In fact, most of them were not yet born.
Here are the representative songs:
El Choclo, Francisco Canaro El Choclo
El Choclo, known to American audiences as Kiss Of Fire, is a popular song written by Ángel Villoldo, an Argentine musician. It is probably one of the most popular tangos in Argentina. Why El choclo? El choclo was in fact a tough guy who as well was a pimp who was based in the surroundings of Junín and Lavalle. He was called by that name because of the color of his hair. The reference is interesting because it denies the origin of the title that Francisco García Jiménez fancifully attributed to the composer, namely, an ear of corn.
The Peanut Vendor, Don Azpiazu The Peanut Vendor
The Peanut Vendor (El Manisero) is a Cuban song based on a street-seller’s cry. It is possibly the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. The lyrics were in a style based on street vendors’ cries, a pregón. On the record label, however, the song was called a rhumba-fox trot, not only the wrong genre, but misspelled as well. After this, the term rumba was used as a general label for Cuban music, as salsa is today, because the numerous Cuban terms were not understood abroad. Rumba was easy to say and remember.
La Adelita, Roberto Rodríguez and Clemente Mendoza La Adelita
La Adelita is one of the most famous corridos (folk songs) to come out of the Mexican Revolution. It is the story of a young woman in love with a sergeant who travels with him and his regiment. The song is supposed to be based on a real-life character, the identity of whom, however, has not been yet established beyond doubt. La Adelita came to be an archetype of a woman warrior in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. An Adelita was a soldadera, or woman soldier, who not only cooked and cared for the wounded, but also actually fought in battles against Mexican government forces. In time the word adelita was used for all the soldaderas, who became a vital force in the revolutionary war efforts. The term La Adelita has since come to signify a woman of strength and courage. The recording by Rodríguez and Mendoza is one of the earliest recordings of conjunto or group music from South Texas.
Green Eyes, Don Azpiazu Green Eyes
Aquellos Ojos Verdes (Those Green Eyes) This song, a bolero was written in 1929 and recorded in Cuba the same year. It was the only major hit, both originally in Cuba and then again in the Latin community in New York for Cuban pianist Nilo Menéndez. Don Azpiazu followed up his hit of The Peanut Vendor with this song and it also became a national hit.
Canto Siboney, Alfredo Brito and his Siboney Orchestra Siboney
Siboney is a 1929 classic Cuban song by Ernesto Lecuona. The music is in cut time, originally written in C major. The lyrics were reportedly written by Lecuona while away from Cuba and is about the homesickness he is experiencing (Siboney is also a town in Cuba, and can also refer to Cuba in general). Siboney became a hit in 1931 when performed by the Cuban singer Alfredo Brito, another Cuban transplant to New York. The song added to the growing popularity of Cuban music in the United States.
Ay Si, Ay No, Lecuona Cuban Boys Ay Si Ay No
The song is a conga dance and it set off a Conga craze in the United States that continued for several years. The conga is an Afro-Cuban dance, which was brought to Cuba by slaves. Its popularity filtered into the United State when The Conga Nightclub opened in New York City in 1929. During the 1930s, this dance became all the rage. Desi Arnaz further popularized the Brazilian conga, beginning in 1939. The conga is generally danced in a single file line, but it can done alone or with a partner. When doing it in a line, dancers put their hands on the waist of the person in front of them. The count is 1-2-3 kick. The line then zigzags through the room. If a couple does the conga, the partners face each other and move in opposite directions. The woman moves to her right as the man moves to his right and then they reverse directions. Technically, the term conga refers to a tall, single-headed Cuban drum that is narrow and which originated with Afro-Cubans. The conga drum, which is played when Afro-Latin dances are performed, is called the tumbadora or tumba in Cuba. The drum did not come to be called a conga drum until the 1920s when the conga dance craze swept through the United States. Americans had never seen or heard this type of drum before and began referring to it as a conga drum. The term “conga” actually means “a Congolese woman” in Spanish.
Bésame Mucho, Xavier Cugat and his Waldorf Astoria Orchestra Besame Mucho
Bésame Mucho (Kiss me a lot) is a song written in 1940 by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez. It is one of the most famous boleros, and was recognized in 1999 as the most sung and recorded Mexican song in the world. Cugat popularized this Mexican standard to American audiences.
Frenesí, Artie Shaw Frenesi
Mexican composer Alberto Dominguez wrote the song, which means “Frenzy” and it was heard by bandleader Artie Shaw while on vacation in Mexico. Shaw returned to the United States and recorded the song as an instrumental with his big band. It became one of his most enduring hits.
South American Way, Carmen Miranda South American Way
Carmen Miranda (María do Carmo Miranda de Cuhna) performed South American Way in her Broadway revue, Streets of Paris, thus launching the “Brazilian Bombshell’s” career in song and motion pictures.
El Rancho Grande, Artie Shaw El Rancho Grande
Bandleader Artie Shaw recorded the signature song from the 1936 Mexican motion pictures Alla En El Rancho Grande, starring Tito Guizar and Esther Fernández, which established Mexico as a major motion picture force in Latin America.
Quiereme Mucho, Tito Schipa Quiereme Mucho
This song is known to American listeners as Yours and was written by Gonzalo Roig with the lyrics by Albert Gamse and Jack Sherr. The song was published in 1931, based on a Spanish language song, Quiéreme Mucho, and the original Spanish lyrics were written by Augustin Rodriguez. The recording by Tito Schipa, an Italian tenor who appeared throughout Italy and in Buenos Aires in Argentina, is an early version of the song.
Brazil, Xavier Cugat Brazil
Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolor of Brazil), known in the English-speaking world simply as Brazil, is one of the most famous Brazilian songs of all time, written by Ary Barroso in 1939. The song only became famous after it was included in Walt Disney’s 1942 animated film Saludos Amigos. After that, the song became known not only in Brazil, but also worldwide, becoming the first Brazilian song to be played over a million times on American radio. The song has received many successful recordings through the years, being played in many different genres, ranging from its original samba genre to disco. It is one of the twenty most recorded songs of all time. In 1943, Spanish-born bandleader Xavier Cugat’s version reached number two on the Billboard Best Sellers List and number nine on the Harlem Hit Parade with his version heard here.
Perfidia, Xavier Cugat Perfidia
Perfidia (Spanish for “perfidy,” as in faithless, treacherous or false) is a song written by Alberto Domínguez, a Mexican composer and arranger born in the state of Chiapas, about love and betrayal. Aside from the original Spanish, other renditions exist, including English and instrumental versions. The English lyrics are by Milton Leeds. The song was published in 1939 and became a hit for Xavier Cugat in 1940.
Chica Chica Boom Chic, Carmen Miranda Chica Chica Boom Chic
That Night in Rio, a 1941 musical comedy film starring Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche is one of several film adaptations of a play called The Red Cat by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler. The original songs for the film were written by the musical partnership of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. These songs include: Boa Noite, They Met in Rio (A Midnight Serenade), and Chica Chica Boom Chic, the latter being another hit for Carmen Miranda.
Babalu, Desi Arnez Babalu
Babalu is the title of a Cuban song, written by Margarita Lecuona, the cousin of composers Ernestina and Ernesto Lecuona. The song title is either a reference to the Santería deity Babalu Aye or to Babalawo, the title of a Santería priest and diviner. In the song’s lyrics, the singer wonders aloud what to do with a statue of Babalú Ayé, now that a Santería rite had been invoked by others. He suggests that seventeen candles be lit up, in the shape of a cross, and that a cigar and an alcoholic beverage be brought to him, so he can pay homage to the deity. He then requests good luck, love from his beloved woman, and safety and protection to both. Babalu was the signature song of the fictitious television character Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz in the television comedy series I Love Lucy, though it was already an established musical number for Arnaz in the 1940s. By the time Arnaz had adopted the song, it had become a Latin American music standard, associated mainly with Cuban singer Miguelito Valdés, who recorded one of its many versions. Arnaz made the song a rather popular cultural reference in the United States
Tico Tico Nu Fuba, Orquestra Colbaz Tico-Tico Nu Fubá
Tico-Tico nu Fubá is the title of a renowned Brazilian choro music piece composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. Its original title was Tico-Tico nu Farelo, but since Brazilian guitarist Américo Jacomino Canhoto had a work with the same title, Abreu’s work was given its present name in 1931. Choro (literally translated meaning lament) is also popularly known as chorinho in the affectionate diminutive form of Brazilian Portuguese. Fubá is a type of maize flour, and tico-tico is the name of a reddish-brown collared sparrow. Hence, tico-tico nu fubá means “sparrow in the cornmeal.” In 1942, Walt Disney Studios produced Saludos Amigos in an effort to off-set possible Latin American leanings to the Axis powers. The motion picture popularized the song Tico Tico Nu Fuba, (simply Tico Tico) to American audiences.The first recording of the work was made by Orquestra Colbaz heard here.
Carioca, Max Steiner conducting the RKO Studio Orchestra Carioca
(The) Carioca is a 1933 popular song with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Edward Eliscu and Gus Kahn, as well as the name of the dance choreographed to it for the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio. It was sung in the film by Alice Gentle, Movita Castaneda and Etta Moten and danced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as part of an extended production dance number illustrating the ballroom dance. The dance, which was choreographed by the film’s dance director, Dave Gould, assisted by Hermes Pan, was based on an earlier stage dance with the same name by Fanchon and Marco. It was a mixture of Samba, Maxixe, Fox-trot and Rumba. The distinctive feature of the dance – at least as portrayed in the movie – was that it was to be danced with the partners’ foreheads touching. The word “Carioca” actually refers to inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro.
Mal Hombre, Lydia Mendoza Mal Hombre
Lydia Mendoza was the first female star in tejano music, a living Mexican-American legend on both sides of the border, with a life story that reads like a novel, full of carwrecks, alcooholic fathers and husbands, and segregation. Her recording career spanned decades, from 1928 to 1988, but her golden days were in the thirties when she started recording solo with her 12-string guitar. She was called La Alondra de la Frontera (The Meadowlark of the Border) and La Cancionera de los Pobres (The Songstress of the Poor). Recorded in 1934 by Bluebird, her song Mal Hombre (Evil Man) became an instant hit. The song tells of a coldhearted man who breaks his lover’s heart. It was her first and greatest hit and made her a star throughout the southwestern United States. The song also set off a Mexican-American recording boom in the process. Although her records sold, Mendoza stayed poor and on the road for the major part of the 1930s and 1940s.
La Cucaracha, Louis Armstrong La Cucaracha
La Cucaracha (The Cockroach) is a traditional Spanish folk corrido that became popular in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. The song’s earliest lyrics, from which its name is derived, concern a cockroach that has lost one of its six legs and is struggling to walk with the remaining five. The cockroach’s uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song’s original 5/4 meter, formed by removing one upbeat (corresponding to the missing sixth leg) from the second half of a 6/4 measure. The origins of La Cucaracha are obscure; because the refrain’s lyrics make no explicit reference to historical events, it is difficult if not impossible to date. Whatever the song’s origin, it was during the Mexican Revolution of the early twentieth century that La Cucaracha saw the first major period of verse production as rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics for the song. So many stanzas were added during this period that today it is associated mostly with Mexico. The Mexican Revolution was a period of great political upheaval during which the majority of the stanzas known today were written. Political symbolism was a common theme in these verses, and explicit and implicit references were made to events of the war, major political figures, and the effects of the war on the civilians in general.
Jalousie “Tango Tzigane,” Boston Pops, directed by Arthur Fiedler Jalousie
Jacob Thune Hansen Gade was a Danish violinist and composer, mostly of orchestral popular music. Today he is remembered for a single tune, the familiar Jalousie ‘Tango Tzigane’, also known as Tango Jalousie, or simply Jalousie. It was written in 1925 and soon became popular around the world. The work consists of two themes – the first “a temperamental theme in D minor,” followed by a “lyrical section in D major,” both of which have a typical tango rhythm.The tango, written to accompany a silent film when Gade was leader of the orchestra of the Palads Cinema, was an instant international hit. When “talkies” were introduced, Jalousie was featured in over one hundred films. Arthur Fiedler made the first recording of the piece with the Boston Pops.
Amapola, Deanna Durbin Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)
Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy) is a 1924 song by Cádiz-born composer José María Lacalle García (later Joseph Lacalle), with Spanish lyrics. After the composer died in 1937, English language lyrics were written by Albert Gamse. Miguel Fleta sang Amapola in the 1925 film The Lecuona Cuban Boys; Deanna Durbin in the 1939 film First Love. A popular recorded version was made later by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocalists Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly
Tea For Two Cha-Cha-Chá, Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra under the direction of Warren Covington Tea For Two Cha Cha Cha
When the cha-cha-chá craze hit the United States, Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra under the direction of Warren Covington was there to capitalize on it with this old chestnut. Of course, the only thing Latin about the song was its contagious cha-cha-chá rhythm. During the 1950s, cha-cha-chá maintained its popularity thanks to the efforts of many Cuban composers who were familiar with the technique of composing danzones and who unleashed their creativity on the cha-cha-chá. Although the rhythm originated with Orquesta América, writers consider the Orquesta Aragón of Rafael Lay and Richard Egűes, and the orchestra of José Fajardo to have been particularly influential in the development of the cha-cha-chá. The coincidental emergence of television and LP records were significant factors in the sudden international popularity of the music and dance of the cha-cha-chá. The cha-cha-chá was first presented to the public through the medium of the charanga, a typical Cuban dance band format made up of a flute, strings, piano, bass and percussion. The popularity of the cha-cha-chá also revived the popularity of this kind of orchestra.
Que Rico Mambo, Pérez Prado Que Rico Mambo
Another craze that swept the United States in the 1950s was the mambo. Many old standards were reset to the mambo beat, including Saint Louis Blues and Stardust (by Richard Maltby). Pérez Prado, Cuban bandleader, singer, organist, pianist, and composer is often referred to as the King of the Mambo. Pérez was his surname, thus Dámaso Pérez, his true name, became known by the paternal and maternal surnames Pérez Prado. In 1948, Prado moved to Mexico to form his own band. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban danzón. Prado’s mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong saxophone counterpoints, and most of all, Prado’s trademark grunts (he actually says “ ¡Dilo! ” (“Say it!”) in many of the perceived grunts). In 1950, arranger Sonny Burke heard Que Rico El Mambo while on vacation in Mexico and recorded it back in the United States as Mambo Jambo. The single was a hit, which caused Perez Prado to launch a United States tour. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs.
Por Una Cabeza, The Tango Project Por Una Cabeza
Por Una Cabeza is a beautiful Argentine tango with music and lyrics written in 1935 by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera respectively. The name is a Spanish horse-racing phrase meaning “by a head,” which refers to a horse winning a race by the length of one head. The lyrics speak of a compulsive horse-track gambler who compares his addiction for horses with his attraction to women. This tango tango has since been performed by numerous tango orchestras. Tango scenes featuring Por Una Cabeza have been part of several films. More recently and most memorably, the music was used in the wonderful dance scene in The Scent of a Woman, in which Al Pacino, portraying retired Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a cantankerous blind alcoholic, dances this seductive tango with Donna, a young woman waiting for her date in a restaurant, played by the beautiful Gabrielle Anwar. The recording here is by The Tango Project.
Let me close by expressing my fondest hope: Please, South America, do not ever take away your most important export – Latin Music!