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Article

Born Raymond Quevedo, Atilla de Hun recorded with American record companies beginning in 1934, when he and Roaring Lion (Hubert Raphael Charles, later Raphael de Leon were the first Trinidadian calypsonians to record in New York City During his career he also recorded with the ...

Article

James Sellman

Mario Bauzá was a talented multi-instrumentalist whose greatest musical achievement lay in his prominent role in the founding of Afro-Latin Jazz. Prior to his 1930 departure for New York City, Bauzá had concentrated on classical music, playing oboe and clarinet in the Havana Philharmonic. But in the United States he found his true calling as a jazz musician. In 1932, while working in Noble Sissle's band, Bauzá began to perform on trumpet, and he went on to serve as a trumpet player and the musical director for Chick Webb's big band (1933–1938). Bauzá, who had always been impressed with Ella Fitzgerald, helped convince the initially skeptical Webb of Fitzgerald's great potential as a vocalist.

Later Bauzá played trumpet with bandleaders Don Redman (1938–1939) and Cab Calloway (1939–1941 Bauzá played a major role in convincing Calloway to hire the brash ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

Gordon Root

Ignacio Villa, known by his stage name, Bola de Nieve, was born and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Guanabacoa, Cuba. His parents introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was a child, and he was exposed to European classical music in his formal studies. His classical training began when he studied privately with Gerado Guanche. Later Villa enrolled in the Conservatorio de José Mateu, where he studied mandolin and flute as well as piano.

At home Villa absorbed many elements of traditional Afro-Cuban music through his contact with Rumba and other rhythms and dances. It has been suggested that his parents participated in African-based religions and that young Ignacio had been educated in the music and practices of Afro-Cuban religion as well.

As a boy Villa helped support his family by performing in house for neighborhood audiences His professional career began in the 1920s ...

Article

Gordon Root

Djalma Andrade received the stage name Bola Sete while playing guitar in a small jazz band in which he was the only black member. Bola Sete means “ball number seven,” the only black ball in Brazilian billiards.

Bola Sete began his formal music education at the Conservatory of Rio de Janeiro where he studied classical guitar. His early influences, including Andrés Segovia, Django Reinhardt, and Charlie Christian, reveal the young artist's interest in both classical music and jazz. His passion for these two genres remained constant throughout his career. As a young man he also played in various Samba and choro groups two Brazilian musical genres with roots in the nineteenth century composing numerous pieces including one of his best known early compositions Cosminho no Choro As a result of his exposure to jazz classical and Brazilian popular music the guitarist became familiar with a variety ...

Article

Born in the bustling city of Havana, Cuba, a cultural center for the development of Classical Music in Latin America and the Caribbean, Claudio Brindis de Salas was already a concert violinist at the age of ten. His father, Claudio Sr., was a well-known musician, teacher, and orchestra leader. Brindis de Salas studied with a Belgian teacher in Havana and later with Danclas, David, Sivori, and others at the Paris Conservatory. Brindis de Salas won awards and began traveling widely, earning many accolades in cities like Milan, Florence, Berlin, Saint Petersburg, and London. As a violin virtuoso he earned the nicknames “The Black Paganini” and “The King of the Octaves.” He toured with great success in Latin America, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, his admirers gave him an authentic Stradivarius violin.

Brindis de Salas lived for a time in Berlin married a German ...

Article

Born William Alexander Clarke, of an Irish immigrant father and a Jamaican mother of indigenous and African descent, Bustamante grew up in Blenheim, Jamaica, but ventured out into the world at the age of twenty-one. As a young man he served in the Spanish army, then worked in various capacities in Cuba, Panama, and New York City. He returned to Jamaica in 1932 as a wealthy entrepreneur. Although shrewd investments had made him rich, Bustamante's concern for Jamaican Sugar plantation workers led him to participate in protest marches, organize strikes, and become the treasurer of the Jamaican Workers and Tradesmen's Union (JWTU), which he helped found in 1937. His political activism continued alongside the social upheaval occurring in the 1930s throughout the West Indies. After he was jailed and released in May 1938 he became a symbolic leader of the workers movement ...

Article

Cartola  

Christopher Dunn

Born Angenor de Oliveira in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “Cartola” (top hat) gained his nickname in the early 1920s because he always wore a fine hat, even while working as a mason. In 1929 he founded the second escola de samba (Samba school), Estação Primeira da Mangueira, together with his partner, Carlos Cachaça. In the Carnival of that year, Mangueira paraded to Cartola's composition “Chega de Demanda,” which he would not record until 1974. Mangueira soon emerged as the preeminent samba school and continues to rank among the top Carnival organizations in Rio de Janeiro.

Throughout the 1930s famous Brazilian radio stars like Carmen Miranda, Francisco Alves, Mário Reis, and Araci de Almeida achieved success interpreting Cartola's songs. In 1940 he participated on two albums titled Native Brazilian Music with Pixinguinha, Donga, and João da Baiana, produced by Leopold Stokowski ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Alejandro García Caturla, along with Amadeo Roldán, was Cuba's leading musical exponent of Afrocubanismo, an artistic and literary movement that looked to Cuba's urban black culture, folklore, and music for new art and literary forms. Caturla employed the prevailing European compositional techniques, but sought innovative ways to incorporate Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodic fragments into his works. He also experimented with European instruments, on which he achieved folk timbres.

According to Cuban composer Argeliers León, Caturla “showed himself from his earliest years to be opposed to the virulent racism clearly reflected in the shining floors of the colonial mansions, which were always polished by black servants.” Caturla was born in Remedios, Cuba to a prominent family of Spanish descent but he felt most at home within Cuba s urban black culture He married a black woman and played in Afro Cuban folk bands an experience that led ...

Article

Christopher Dunn

Dorival Caymmi was born in Salvador, Brazil, and worked at several jobs before becoming a singer. Despite winning a songwriting contest in 1936 he chose to study law, moving to Rio de Janeiro two years later to pursue that ambition. Friends, however, convinced him to try his hand at a musical career. Caymmi achieved widespread popularity in 1939, when Carmen Miranda performed his song “O que é que a baiana tem?” in the film Banana da Terra.

Caymmi's music—more than that of any other Brazilian singer-songwriter—encouraged the popular recognition and acceptance of the cosmology and beliefs of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé Several compositions such as É doce morrer no mar Rainha do mar and Promessa de Pescador portray the life of local fishermen and their relationship to Yemanjá the African deity of the sea In other compositions like Você já foi a Bahia Saudade da ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

During the 1960s Roque Cordero gained international recognition as an innovative composer of contemporary classical music. He has received numerous awards for his compositions, including the Koussevitzky International Recording Award in 1974 for his Violin Concerto (1962). Although he employs modern compositional techniques, he strongly identifies with his Panamanian heritage and has sought to create music with both Afro-indigenous character and universal appeal.

Cordero was born and raised in Panama City, Panama. As a teenager, he revealed a talent for musical composition and won several local prizes. In 1939 he wrote his first notable work for orchestra, the Capricho Interiorano. Impressed by the bold experimentalism of the Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg, he aspired to a Western musical education and in 1943 enrolled on a scholarship at the University of Minnesota in the United States. After extensive musical study with composer Ernst Krenek and conductor Dimitri ...

Article

Donga  

Christopher Dunn

Born Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos, Donga grew up in a social milieu with former slaves from the northeastern state of Bahia who had migrated to Rio de Janeiro after abolition in 1888. His mother, known as Tia Amélia, was a Bahian woman who hosted many Candomblé celebrations in their home in the neighborhood of Cidade Nova. Starting around 1910, a young group of musicians and composers, including Donga, Pixinguinha, João da Baiana, Sinhô, and Heitor dos Prazeres, frequented the famous parties of another baiana known as Tia Ciata. At her house they entertained guests with traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms such as lundu, maxixe, and marcha, which they mixed with imported styles such as the habanera. In November 1916 Donga registered the song Pelo telefone By Telephone at the National Library becoming the first composer officially to use the ...

Article

Peter Wade

Alejo Durán was born in the village of El Paso, Cesar province, Colombia, where he worked as an agricultural laborer. His father, uncle, and two brothers, Luis Felipe and Náfer, already played the accordion, and at twenty-four years of age Alejo began to learn the instrument as well. During this time he was surrounded by other important figures in the vallenato tradition such as Abel Antonio Villa, Luis E. Martínez, and Guillermo Buitrago, who were already making recordings in Colombia's nascent music industry.

In 1949 Durán formed a four-piece group featuring an accordion, drum, scraper, and guitar. The group toured locally, playing the simple picaresque and quasi-narrative songs of the genre, often with romantic themes. His first hit record (“El Cero treinta y nueve,” 1954 was his own composition as were most of his songs During this time Durán married and settled ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to an ex-slave, Gabino Ezeiza first picked up a guitar at the age of fifteen. Drawing from a rich oral tradition of earlier payadores, he gradually attracted an impressive following by taking his improvisational virtuosity on the road. The payada, a duel-like exchange in which singer-guitarists spontaneously compose formulaic refrains, is derived from both Spanish versification and African traditions of musical contests. In Argentina, it is considered “popular literature,” inextricably tied to the most symbolic of national figures: the gaucho of the pampas (roughly equivalent to cowboys on the range). While still a teenager, Ezeiza began writing for La Juventud, a Buenos Aires newspaper for and by members of the black community. From 1876 to 1878, while still building a reputation as a payador, publishing poetry, and writing news, he became the editor of La Juventud.

Before the twentieth ...

Article

Article

Nicola Cooney

Hermes Fontes was born in Buquim, in the state of Sergipe, Brazil, a son of rural laborers. He was orphaned at an early age. A highly precocious child, he studied in his hometown and in Aracaju and made such an impression upon the governor of Sergipe that the governor took Fontes to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and sponsored his education in the humanities.

As a student Fontes was involved in journalism and literary pursuits, publishing his poetry in journals by the age of fifteen, and his first book, Apoteoses (1908), at age twenty. He continued to pursue journalism, working for the Diário de Notícias, became a civil servant, and took part in the civlilist campaign of Rui Barbosa, earning acclaim for his oratorical skills.

A greatly esteemed poet in his time his work is representative of a phase of transition in Brazil from Parnasianism ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro to an unwed mother of mixed race. After being officially recognized by her father, she received all the trappings of an education befitting the daughter of a military man so that she might serve in the court of Pedro II. After a strict upbringing she married a wealthy commander in Brazil's merchant marines when she was still a teenager; yet, much to her family's chagrin, she swapped an oppressive home life for the bohemian music halls of Rio at the age of eighteen.

Though Gonzaga had performed her first song, “Canção de Pastores,” at a family gathering on Christmas Eve in 1858, her first successful composition, a polka titled “Atraente,” was not published until 1877 In the meantime cut off by her family she managed to build a reputation as a piano teacher and made a living playing in ...

Article

Gordon Root

Luiz Gonzaga grew up in the small village of Exú in the parched, semiarid zones of the sertão (the backland region of northeast Brazil). His father, a farm worker by trade, played the sanfona (Brazilian accordionlike instrument), and his mother sang novenas (prayers of request) in the local church. While still a young boy, Gonzaga became enthralled with the sound of the sanfona and expressed a desire to learn to play. His mother, however, would not allow him to pursue his interest. Nevertheless, the eager Gonzaga managed to explore the instrument in secret, sneaking away to a festival or the marketplace and practicing on other musicians' sanfonas.

In a short time Gonzaga developed a reputation for his talent on the instrument, and the neighbors began to ask him to play. At first, Gonzaga had to do so secretly but eventually his mother consented.

At the age of eighteen Gonzaga ...

Article

James Sellman

When pianist Rubén González recorded Introducing…Rubén González (1996), he was seventy-seven years old. It was his first album under his own leadership. He had last recorded in the mid-1940s, as part of the legendary Afro-Cuban tres player Arsenio Rodriguez's conjunto (a nine-to-eleven-member ensemble combining a rhythm section, stringed instruments, and two trumpets playing the melody line). In a career spanning more than half a century, González mastered many divergent styles of Cuban music, including danzón, Bolero, guaracha, Son, Mambo, and chachachá. He encapsulated much of Cuba's twentieth-century musical history. Although well known within Cuba, he was virtually unknown to the wider world.

González was born in Santo Clara, Cuba As a youth he studied at the Cienfuegos Conservatory where he devoted himself to learning and completed his studies by age fifteen He did not however continue formal studies that ...

Article

Grande Otelo, nicknamed Bastião as a child, expressed his artistic interest at a young age. In addition to attending school, he worked in the circus in his hometown of Uberlândia, and at the age of eight he sang at the lounge of the city's Hotel do Comércio. In the circus he became part of the cast of a comedy piece called “The Clown's Wife.” During one of his circus performances in 1924 he was discovered by classical singer Abigail Gonçalves. Impressed with the young boy's talent, Gonçalves became his tutor and took him to São Paulo to introduce him to professional acting. He acted in his first professional role when he was nine years old. He began to refine his identity as an actor with the Companhia Negra de Revistas, a theater troupe composed of black actors. In 1926 he performed major roles in plays such as Café Torrado ...