by Armando Susmano, M.D.
In Honor of Robert W. Carton M.D.

(Describing the rise of that peculiarly Argentine dance from the barrios of Buenos Aires to the concert halls of Europe and North America.)

Delivered to
The Chicago Literary Club
February 14, 2000


E. From WWII to 1955
1910-1920 OLD GUARD


From the multiple and colorful bordellos of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century to the magnificent walls of the distinguished Carnegie Hall, or the new and elegant building of Symphony Hall (in Chicago) more than 100 years had to elapse for tango music to achieve the acceptance and respectability that it now enjoys.

Popular was, but respectable was not for many years. How strange and ironic that tango music has been intimately related to the socioeconomic and political upheavals of Argentina over the past century. When Berlioz's Carmen or Stravinsky: The Rites of Spring" were premiered, the composer's encountered nothing but boos and violent shouting of disapproval from the audience.

This was a people's response to an individual or perhaps an unknown composer presenting a new style of music for which the public was not prepared or did not have the appetite to accept musical innovations. In the case of tango music, the rejection was related first, to its social identification, second, to the segment of society that embraced this music and third, to the origins and location of its performances. In the United States, it all started a few years ago when Al Paccino portrayed a blind man in the movie "Scent of a Woman." With the background music of guitar players and the most exquisite voice of Carlos Gardel, the Argentine Elvis, singing three marvelous tangos, Al Paccino (accompanied by a beautiful lady) danced a most sophisticated, elegant, sensual, voluptuous and artistic tango equal or better to anyone born in Argentina and accustomed to dance this type of music. Since then, tango fever has swept the U.S. and tango melodies can be heard on radio or TV commercials, movies, theaters and now even in Chicago's Symphony Hall.

Tango was known in the U.S. back in the 1920s but it never made any significant inroads in this society as compared to jazz or Broadway style of music. What is tango and how did it come to be synonymous with Argentina? We should probably start out by dividing the history of tango in four periods.
1)From the 1860s to the WWI,
2)From WWI to WWII,
3)From WWII to the fall of dictator Juan D. Peron in 1955, and;
4)The last 40 years.
Tango is a real phenomenon created by the convergence of several musical styles brought to Argentina by several European immigratory waves, including the tunes and rhythm of black slaves previously present in the country. Tango is sadness, melancholy, an introverted dance that encompasses all the attributes of the society: frustration, unhappiness, rancor, nostalgia, resentment and the inability to adjust, all aspects of a dysfunctional society. As Janny Scott said Tango "is elegant and formal, passionate and intimate. It is about power and vulnerability. It is both a dance and a metaphor, and to its captives it can become a magnificent obsession". (1)

As Ibarguren (2) said, "it is not an original Argentine music, but the mixing and influence of many people and the product of the resentment of the natives and the sadness of the immigrants." An important element is sex, particularly female since it was originally a lascivious, erotic dance that could only be danced in a bordello and only prostitutes were involved.

The prostitutes served a dual economic function: one for their sexual and dancing skills, and second for enticing and stimulating their customers to consume alcoholic beverages, although the bottles of champagne did not cost $12 each in Argentina, as charged around the turn of the century, at the famous and luxurious brothel the Everleigh Club at 2131 S. Dearborn St. in Chicago. (3) It was in these places and in the coffee houses that opened toward the turn of the century (where tango was also danced) that there was a substantial consumption of cocaine by a well selected group of patrons (12). However cocaine and other drugs were not available to the general population as it is the problem nowadays all over the world.

Tango was offered as a way of entertaining patrons before or after a sexual encounter. There was that intimate contact of two bodies almost plastered together that gave tango an erotic quality as well as a form of power and domination over the woman which was characteristic of the machismo that prevailed in Argentina at the turn of the century. Tango music evolves nowadays around the bandoneon a characteristic instrument (different from the accordion) brought to Argentina by German immigrants, that has a dramatic and mysterious sound.

Finally, the LYRICS are an important element for it provides the means of expression for the various emotions, hopes, disappointments, dreams, memories, anxieties, love and philosophy of life.


The origins of tango are very obscure. It probably started in the second half of the 19th century and by the early 1870s, a mixture of Hispanic habaneras (Cuba), Candombes or tangos from Andalucia (Spain) Milongas and black people tunes were danced. Black people achieved freedom in Argentina in 1812 and some might have arrived later on through commercial ships making round trips between the Caribbean Islands and Buenos Aires. There was also the encounter of two cultures: The one brought by the Gauchos (from rural areas) colliding with the large significant immigrant influence present in Buenos Aires. The Gaucho brought the PAYADA. The Payada was an spontaneous poetry, an improvised octosilabic verse sang with guitar and in many occasions, accompanied by ambulant musicians playing the flute, harp, violin or accordion. This mixture of poetry and music when confronted with immigrant influence produced the Milonga, a popular dance in the 1880s. The women would dance inside the house. A dance of African Caribbean origin the CAN-CAN was common then. There was no direct physical contact at the beginning of tango, and as stated by Salas (5), by 1880 only dances without physical contact were accepted by society. However, this dancing gradually evolved into an embracing of the couple as tango is danced today. It was said that tango was the Africanization of Mazurka and Milonga. Eventually these dances moved from the houses to the streets, where very commonly two men could be seen dancing together, and from there it found its way into the bordellos of Buenos Aires. The musicians used to move from one bordello to another playing in groups of 2 or usually 3 ambulant musicians who in the early days improvised their music since there was no printed tango music until the end of the century. The trios were a combination of harp, violin and flute and rarely accordion. This one was rapidly replaced by the bandoneon in the 1880s. The tango dance was slowly modified from a continuous movement to a suspense in motion. With the introduction of this halt in movement the man would stand still while the woman would dance aside him in a rotating style and making special leg figures (the eight). This leg movement that would never be repeated twice required later on more space and longer areas for displacement. This eventually led to the embracing of the bodies, the faces would touch each other, with the man leading the movements and rotation by the woman to follow. By the end of 1890s the tango had achieved its own technique and choreography and by the beginning of the 20th century and around 1905 tango was the preferred dance during carnival time (the equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans). ORIGIN OF TANGO WORD

There is no exact knowledge of where the word originates, but there is by now substantial evidence that it is a derivative of TANGANO (5-6) (according to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, Edition of 1803) and of the word TANGIR (or play an instrument) which was associated with black African Dance.

In the XVIII century there was a dance in Mexico called tango. It could be a word of African origin as Matamoro suggest (6). Rodriguez Molas (8) feels strongly about the African origin of this word. In some tribes in Congo and Sudan, tango means an enclosed area or a circle and the word denotes areas of concentration of slaves. Molas also claims that in 1802 a House of Tango was functioning in Buenos Aires and by 1821 blacks were collecting money to support an organization called "Tango de Bayle" and that in Montevideo (Uruguay) public dancing of tangos by blacks was forbidden as prejudicial to society. A dance called the TANGO was designated in South Spain and then imported to America, and in Cuba black dance movements were incorporated in the Habanera and from there found its way to Andalucia (Spain) and then imported by Spaniards into Buenos Aires.

It is quite possible that tango can be an onomatopoyetic variation of TAMBO from TAMBOR of Candombe and African dances. In Argentina the word "CHUENGA" a chewing candy sold in soccer stadiums is originated from the rapid pronunciation of "chewing gum." The rapid pronunciation of "TOCA TAMBO" (toca el tambor) might have been changed the sound of the word TAMBO by the interaction of blacks and white people of those days.


(1) ITALIANS - Argentina was a stable society until 1852 when the first dictator ROSAS was removed from office. This opened the influence of liberal minds to populate the country. The city of Buenos Aires had in 1869 a total of 181,838 inhabitants that grew almost four fold by 1895 to 663,854 of which half of them were immigrants (345,493) and over the next 20 years Argentina went from a population of 1.3 million to almost 8 million by the beginning of WWI. The poorest people of Spain and Italy and then starting in 1890, the poor Jews escaping the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe (thanks to the generosity of BARON HIRSCH) found freedom and a new life in Argentina. While the Jews were settled in distant farms to become farmers in lands bought for them by BARON HIRSCH, the other immigrants (of which many were real farmers) could not develop their skills due to the feudal structure of the society and were unable to buy any land. Between 1857 and 1947 over three million Italians arrived to Argentina and the majority remained. More than 50% were forced to stay around the large city of Buenos Aires. The decade of 1880 revealed an extraordinary transformation in all aspects of Argentine society. From 1880 on, a Paris Fever developed and the architecture of Buenos Aires reflected in new public and private construction, governmental buildings and public parks revealed a strong desire to imitate whatever French Paris had to offer and eventually Buenos Aires became to be known as the Paris of South America. But also the language (due to immigrant influx) underwent a significant change, Lunfardo (slang style of language) was introduced, the Criollo food was gradually replaced by French and Italian cuisine; new roads were built; a dress code developed; musical shows (popular as well as classical music) and opera were being offered; the transportation and railroad system constructed new lines; the first telephone was installed in 1881 and electricity appeared in 1887. A wonderful economic, social and industrial transformation swept the country and therefore a large number of unskilled laborers and skilled trade workers entered and were received with open arms into this rapidly developing country.

All these waves of immigrants brought with them the new ideas of social and political reform, became anarchists, socialists or communists, created the first unions and provoked the first strikes. Many could not adapt and returned to Europe but the rest mixed with the Gauchos and the poor natives of Argentina. As they remained, they helped to build the country and made great contributions to music, in particular the Italians who brought their love for music and singing, and were skillful with musical instruments. With the growth in population the Bordellos increased in number and they offered Tango as a form of entertainment as well.

This was the beginning of incorporating the nostalgia and sadness of the immigrants in tangos. The Gaucho on the other hand, introduced the resentment created against the immigrants, who in large and larger numbers were taking more space and influence in Argentine society, a phenomenon not dissimilar to what is happening in the U.S. or in European countries at the present time, mostly due to a scarcity of jobs. These immigrants and their children became rapidly educated and out numbered the professionals produced by the natives. Needless to say that they greatly contributed and influenced the development and execution of tango, but also significantly affected and changed the Spanish language by incorporating many of their words in tango lyrics.

(2) SPANISH - The Spanish immigration also brought songs and dances. Among them the "tanguillo" which is a form of habanera that went from Cadiz to Madrid and then to Buenos Aires. Also Flamenco was imported that mixed with sevillanas, malaguenas and rondelas. Some elements of this different musical forms found a way to mix or influence tango, and by the end of the 19th century the confusion between Spanish tango and criollo tango vanished. While this was the Spanish contribution to the eventual development of tango as we know it today, the Italians on the other hand provided players and instrumentalists as well as the melancholic and nostalgic aspects of this music.

(3) JEWISH - of the poor Jewish immigrants that arrived after 1890, very few if any were musicians. It was therefore the first generation born in Argentina that made contributions starting in 1910 and thereafter, but tango by then had already achieved its rhythm and choreography. Therefore, the contribution of the Jews was relegated to the execution of this music, for which over the years they provided a long list of great or virtuoso instrumentalists. Particularly in violin, piano and bandoneon but also great lyricists who wrote words for the most beautiful and famous tangos known even today, as well as first rate orchestra conductors, musical arrangers, composers and singers. Many of these players performing in duos, trios, quartets, quintets or full orchestras not only played tango, but also Klezmer type music to satisfy the needs of several Jewish communities scattered in different cities. It should be noted that a few became musical publishers who played a key role in publishing music composed by Jewish musicians. Paradoxically to other aspects of Argentine Society, these musicians were not subjected to any personal discrimination or antisemitic incidents (10). Of interest is the fact that in many prominent families there were several members, at times three or four brothers or sisters who would participate in tango playing. There were also professionals, such as physicians who would perform tangos in theaters or music houses. My own father was one of them who was very active with his own orchestra during the decade of 1920 before he became a physician. (4) FRENCH - France has always had a magnetic influence on Argentina. Going to Paris meant to study in good universities, or spending time vacationing or socializing, since Paris was the cultural and scientific center of the world toward the end of the 19th century. The Russian aristocracy spoke French and spent long periods of time in Paris. Many Argentine writers and poets like Miguel Cane, Lucio V. Mansilla and Victoria Ocampo were raised by French nannies or influenced by French writers (Zola, Dumas, Hugo, France, etc.). At the turn of the century and thereafter, many musicians went to Paris and while playing there (CANARO, GOBBI) they introduced their own compositions. They were invited to record the music for Victor Records and they also taught the dancing of tango in newly opened dancing studios and schools.

Gradually this exotic dance caught the attention and the interest of all layers of French society. By 1911, tango had surpassed the waltz as the preferred dance. It was recognized in all major capitals of the world, "while the Argentinean Ambassadors were wasting their time informing the public of the ill repute origin and practice of tango in the bordellos and dancing bars of Buenos Aires and was not liked by the elegant and distinguished upper class of Argentina, because it considered tango an unnatural type of entertainment." There were tango tea parties in London and even the Vatican was involved in rendering an opinion whether tango was a dangerous dance, by having couples dance in front of the Pope (as related by Salas) (4-5). We have covered up to now the origins and development of tango from the late 19th century to the beginning of WWI.


Right after WWI tango was on its way for a better acceptance. On the other hand, the Argentine conservative government (who had a strange brand of inherited Spanish morality), in conjunction with members of the upper class, Nationalists elements and even some Leftists, denounced and rejected tango as synonymous of Argentinean music since they considered it a mixture of Habanera and Milonga that made the women prone to work in bordellos (where they were dehumanized and exploited) rather than working in factories where they could earn and enjoy a more decent way of life. Despite all this criticism, the stronger the opposition to the tango would become, the larger would be the number of new adepts that tango music would attract and identify with it. Tango followed the social transformation of the country.

The children of immigrants became professionals and successful business people. Lovers and concubines began to proliferate and light industry began to develop, city life attracted the masses coming from poor areas of the country or the poor suburbs surrounding Buenos Aires. The first universal elections were held and representatives of different ideologies rose to power, cabarets (like in Paris) were opened and flourished, and gradually tango advanced from the obscurity of the bordellos to the multicolor lights of city night life. A remarkable transformation that would last for approximately 15 years.

(1) CABARET - The tango image began to change with the opening of cabarets. The music titles became more decent without sexual connotations and the composers began to dedicate their music to members of the upper class, to high ranking members of the military, or to powerful politicians in an attempt to make this type of music more acceptable.

The ascent of H. Irigoyen, in 1916 (9) a most popular president gave power to popular candidates and representatives of the middle class and some lower socioeconomic groups and this contributed to enhance the popularity of tango. By offering good quality orchestras and singers the cabarets replaced the bordellos and by having pianos, added a key instrument that was introduced to perform this music at a more sophisticated level. Tango now had a better image, a new taste, more decent lyrics, better instrumental players, who dressed now in tuxedos and had an exemplary behavior making this more acceptable to respectable social circles.

The cabarets became big business and they rapidly multiplied: Armenonville, Chanteclair, Royal Pigalle, Moulin Rouge, Maxim (all had French names). It was a place to sit at night, have drinks, listen to music, dance, socialize or even conduct personal business or political deals. During the presidency of ALVEAR (1922-1928) tango flourished because members of his cabinet and government went to cabarets as their place of entertainment and social activities. Furthermore, a new generation of musicians who studied music and were great instrumentalists and who had never played in bordellos, added a new air of respectability.

Among the great musicians of those days were Roberto Firpo (a member of the old guard) pianist who started with a trio, then formed a sextet and finally an 11 musician orchestra (the basic number for a typical tango orchestra). He not only wrote beautiful and memorable tangos, but also introduced in 1918 the one that would become almost the second National Anthem entitled, "LA Cumparsita" (written by an Uruguayan composer).

JULIO DECARO and OSVALO FRESEDO are good examples of the New Guard which developed while the UCR (the equivalent of the Democratic party in the U.S.) was in power. They represented the new wave, a change in style and a new musical line that will continue with TROILO, PUGLIESE and SALGAN. DeCaro incorporated new techniques of harmony and counterpoint interacting with each instrument or producing variations for solo parts of great melodic lines and sound, playing, in synchrony or alternating voices with the other instruments. He created a real polyphonic sound. The period of musical sophistication in tango had just begun. FRESEDO began playing in cabarets in 1916. By 1918 he had his own orchestra and in 1919 travels to the U.S. where he was influenced by the development of jazz in this country. He introduced staccatos, pianissimos, and crescendos in the musical lines and added new instruments like harp, vibraphone and percussion instruments as part of his jazz influence. He represented the avant garde of his days and was favored by the ruling class in the 20s and 30s. His success continued into the 40s and even in his older days had open arms for the revolutionary music of PIAZOLLA (already rejected by his other peers). He played until 1981 and died in 1984 at age 97.

(2) CABARET CHARACTERS - Cabaret life influence composers and lyric writers to describe this kind of life through different characters.
a)The young prostitute, described in MILONGUITA based on a real person, a young girl of poor upbringing attracted by economicrewards and city life.

b)MILONGUERA the woman hired to dance in public places.

c)The FRENCH WOMAN who came from France attracted by promises of marriage and found herself sold as a prostitute in Buenos Aires.

d)The MEN who patronized these cabarets.
The good economy of Argentina in the1920s produced a generation of selfish nouveau rich that spent time and money at cabarets with their concubines or local prostitutes. This status changed in the 1930s during the world-wide depression that produced severe political and economic dislocations and as a consequence the cabarets lost their appeal and due to the economic crash they would gradually disappeared in the early 1940s. Furthermore, a significant political local event contributed to the decadence of tango during the 1930s. On September 6, 1930, a military revolution led by Gral J. URIBURU installed a fraudulent conservative and right wing government that catered to the interests of International oil companies and became subservient to the influence of the British Empire. Even some politicians wanted Argentina to be part of the commonwealth. Tango, as an expression of popular music was looked down by the ruling class who had profound disdain for this music.

At this point tango reached a plateau. There were no new musicians, no new singers of the stature of its predecessors or to replace the great C. Gardel who died in a plane crash in 1935. The masses were no longer dancing. The middle class felt marginalized. Tango became almost obsolete. Although some orchestras sprang up in the late 30s it would take almost ten years until the assumption to power of Gral Peron for the tango to make a comeback. When Peron came to power in 1946 cabarets would no longer be in existence and tango now would be embraced by the Peronist ideology with the strong support of the working class and a large segment of the middle class. A new period had started in the history of tango.

E. FROM 1946 TO 1955.

(3) TANGO LYRICS - An important part of tango is the lyrics component as well as the language used at the turn of the century, a dialect called LUNFARDO (4) (equivalent to slang). The contribution to the lyrics was done by a group of poets and writers who over the years were able to capture the mood, the feelings and emotions of the people and to color in their poetry little dramas and the changes in social, economic and political structure of the society. Tango was not just "the cry of the cuckhold" as has been derisively referred to in the past.

Earlier famous writers include Pascual CONTURSI. He changed the way lyrics were written by telling a short story and expressing the emotions associated with the story. By expressing the changing emotions of daily life, he gave to tango a sensible, philosophic and humanistic approach. Most famous lyrics MI NOCHE TRISTE (1917) and BANDONEON ARRABALERO were written in Paris. Celedonio FLORES wrote about the social aspects of cabaret women and described:

1)Characters (MARGOT, female French impersonator)
3)Social Events (MANO A MANO).
He was a descriptive lyricist of the life of the upper class, and the ethics and morals of the poor people living in slums. CADICAMO described changes in social status and cabaret life from a sentimental point of view with melancholic, nostalgic or romantic lyrics.

Homero MANZI presented a brush painting of the many suburbs of Buenos Aires, love relations and the nostalgia expressed by immigrant groups. He also wrote screenplays for many movies.

Samuel LINNIG described accurately the life and social aspects of young prostitutes. All of these writers and poets were famous prior to 1935.

It belongs to E.S. Discepolo to become the interpreter, analyst, chronicler and moral critic of the decade of 1930s and thereafter. Through his music and lyrics Discepolo went on a crusade to describe the social changes, the lack of scruples and the loss of moral values. His tangos YIRA-YIRA and CAMBALACHE are a summary of total loss of values of a society that changed after the revolution of 1930. Because of these reasons he embraced the Peronist ideology as a hope for a betterment of the society, supporting the working class and the under privileged. For his political views he was severely criticized and felt ostracized, became severely depressed and died of starvation in 1951. UNO and CAFETIN DE BSAS are counted among his best tangos.

(4) LUNFARDO- was the slang and first dialect of tango (4). In its early days tango lyrics used the language of the people who were connected, played or danced this type of music. It was the language of members of lower socioeconomic strata. Salas (5) suggested that Lunfardo probably began in the jails of Buenos Aires where the inmates would communicate among them in a cryptic way so neither the guards nor the police could understand. This language of incarcerated people gradually found its way to the relatives and friends of inmates for its daily use and became a dialect that eventually was incorporated in tango lyrics. The common denominator was life in the bordello and many tango titles had sexual or obscene connotations. For instance, there were 18 slang words in reference to a woman and 16 in reference to money. Many words were spoken in reverse sequence and the huge Italian immigration had a great influence to incorporate many partially or totally modified words into the Spanish language.

The use of Lunfardo dialect was so pervasive that immediately after the extreme right military coup established a Junta, on June 4, 1943, the government under the influence of a notorious antisemitic writer Hugo Wast (A.K.A. Gustavo Gonzales Zuviria) appointed Minister of Interior and Education Affairs, issued an edict forbidding the use of these words in the tango lyrics in order to preserve the purity of the Spanish language (5).

The Jews and Lunfardo in tango lyrics became his common enemy. Not only did he dismiss Jewish teachers and professors from their positions but he also implemented the obligatory teachings of Religion and Moral in all public schools, meaning that non Catholics (Jews) had to be segregated to other classrooms. The censorship in tango lyrics lasted until 1949.

It was an indirect attempt by the upper class to discredit tango music and its lyrics but after almost 50 years of its use, it was already too late. Lunfardo language was already part of Argentine culture.


A fundamental role in tango was played by the MALE singers. Salas mentions that of the four Argentinean myths:

1)Hipolito YRIGOYEN
2)Juan D. Peron
3)Eva Peron, and
4)Carlos Gardel,
Only Gardel has been accepted and adored by all segments of society and his image and voice have remained unaltered, like suspended in space for eternity, with his smile, attractive face, peculiar hairdo, and his tuxedo. Even today, 60 years after his airplane crash--accidental death, people would say "that he sings better every passing day". This Argentinean combination of Elvis Presley and Pavarotti receives flowers, and candles are lit daily at his resting place. Even his birthplace is clouded in mystery. He had an Argentine passport stating he was born in TACUAREMBO (Uruguay) on December 11, 1887, but a will or testament found after his death marks his native city as TOULOUSE (in France) on December 11, 1890. No wonder since he was a child his nickname was El Francesito (the French boy). He had a great PR appeal. He dressed and behaved well, had charm, was caring and loyal to his friends and was always surrounded by many beautiful women. But he never married and because of that and other facts, there were recent conflicting stories about his sexual orientation (12). Gardel rapidly achieved fame and wealth. From 1912 to 1925 he was singing in duets with Jose RAZZANO and many records made then for Columbia and Victor Records had been mastered and reissued. In 1928, he went to France as a solo singer for tangos. He achieved fame in Paris, sang with Josephine Baker, and became accepted by the upper class for his singing, distinctive personal qualities and elegant presence and as stated by JUDKOVSKI(11) in his book about Tango History, Gardel participated in 1929 in the "BAL DES PETITES LITES BLANCS" at the Opera Theater in the presence of the President of France and its entire cabinet. He apparently obtained help from SADIE BARON-WAKEFIELD, the heir to the fortune of a tobacco tycoon Mr. BERNARD BARON. In 1931, Gardel was invited to sing at a party Sadie gave in Nice (France) in honor of Charlie Chaplin for his success in his new movie CITY LIGHTS. She was instrumental in financing one of Mr. Gardel's first films - Buenos Aires City Lights - with a title very similar to Chaplin's movie.

Gardel achieved what he wanted to be, an International singer, and he used his talent as an actor to participate in movies to complete this goal. He was a born musician who had composed several tangos, but now at this stage of his career he needed a good lyric writer which he found in ALFREDO LE PERA, a former medical student and journalist. While in Paris he connected Gardel to the Paramount Studios through his American friends. In order to bring tango to International level, Le Pera eliminated the use of slang words and wrote in a Spanish that could be understood in all of South America and other Spanish speaking countries. Gardel's accidental death in 1935 cut short his stellar career. His funeral in Buenos Aires is reminiscent of the emotional popular outpouring shown at Eva Peron's funeral, Elvis Presley's and JFK's in the U.S. and Princess Diana in England.

Other great singers include AGUSTIN MAGALDI, IGNACIO CORSINI and CHARLO. Corsini was remembered not only for his unique voice, but for the political and Nationalistic themes, for the absence of slang words in lyrics and for the intense melodic lines of the songs.

There was subsequently a long list of great singers: FIORENTINO, MARINO, F. RUIZ, DANTE, MARTEL, HUGO DEL CARRIL, A. VARGAS, E. RIVERO, JULIO SOSA, GOYENECHE. None of them were as picturesque as ALBERTO CASTILLO, who started singing during his days in medical school. He later became a gynecologist. He sided with the working class, dressed in exotic attire of wide lapel suits, large hanging handkerchief in his front upper pocket, wide pants, wide ties with large knots. It was a new fashion of bad taste that went along with the political influence of Peronism. He scorned the upper class and his lyrics had a Nationalistic color. Although once he was compared to Al Jolson for his eccentricities and attire, his body motion were precursors of what Elvis, Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger would be famous for, a few years later. He had an aggressive attitude of resentment toward the rich. His popularity died with the fall of the Peronist regime and with the return of the displaced upper class back to power.

The other two singers who made a mark in the history of tango were J. Sosa and E. Rivero in the 40s to the early 60s. Their distinctive low, grave baritone voices added an unusual tone to the singing of lyrics, since up the 1940s the register of the singers were tenor or alto tenor, a timbre that identified itself with tango singing. They presented a new dimension at the other end of the vocal register giving more relevance to the interpretation of tango with a more mature music, lyrics and voice to achieve a new level of dignity and pride. In the 60s and thereafter, R. GOYENECHE had been the voice that bridged the old and the new as an expression of the political and economic transformation that was developing in Argentina. He was a master in understanding and giving weight to each word, to the rhythmic music of the new language, knew how to modulate the intensity and the tempo of his voice to sing tangos, many written over 50 years before and was able to give them actual life as if written today. (2) FEMALE SINGERS - The role of women in tango was related to the bordellos where prostitutes had a dual role as dancers too. The lyrics reflected that type of life and was demeaning to women. Women started to sing tango without shameful feelings in the 1920s when the lyrics were written without sexual connotations such as LA MOROCHA (the brunette). They displayed their singing talents first dressed and smoking like the men. It was in essence an early manifestation of what later on would be part of the sexual revolution and female liberation movement in the 60s. These singers even ventured to travel to Spain and France to sing tangos dressed as man or in gaucho attire. Gradually this changed to regular female attire. Their participation in radio programs made the activities legitimate and respectable.

In the past 70 years---from the 1920s, the shining stars were AZUCENA MAIZANI, ROSITA QUIROGA, MERCEDES SIMONE (from the 1920s to 1930s), ADA FALCON, TITA MERELLO (from 1930s to 1940s). AMANDA LEDESMA, SABINA OLMOS, AIDA LUZ, SOFIA BOZAN, NELLY OMAR and TANIA (there were more actresses in movies than singers during the 30s to 50s). AMELITA BALTAR and SUSANA RINALDI were the stars from the 40s to the 70s. Of them all, only three would stand out. One not mentioned is LIBERTAD LAMARQUE; the two others, are Tita Merello and Susana Rinaldi. Libertad Lamarque was a class in itself. Daughter of a second wave of immigrants, she was unrelated to the ill-reputed origins of tango. Starting in 1930, she tried to imitate the upper class with her refined behavior and demeanor, her elegant female attire, the absence of smoking during performances and an exquisite soprano voice that made her the darling of the middle and upper class women. In her lyrics she did not want to sing about the sins of the illiterate and the demeaning life of single women of the 1910s and 1920s. She chose to sing the grief, frustrations, aggravations and humiliations suffered by married women, the homemaker, the mother of many children, the victim of infidelity, male abuse and economic insecurity. She also sang about the women's ability to change their status by becoming self-supporting in the working place, something that was unthinkable and anathema for Argentinean males to accept in the 30s to the 50s. Unfortunately, her quarrels with Eva Peron obligated her to emigrate and take residence in Mexico City where she continued to sing and perform in movies and became an idol there too. She is still alive today, but retired from musical activities.

TITA MERELLO came from a very poor upbringing in an Italian slum. She had great sex appeal and played even dramatic roles in radio programs and movies, but it was the humor used in her lyrics that was her vehicle to make a point or express social criticism. She gained popularity during the Peronist regime and fell into oblivion after the dictator's fall. She had a short-lived success in theaters thereafter that rapidly faded away.

SUSANA RINALDI has become the preferred singer of the 60s and 70s. Extremely beautiful with great modulated voice and ability to time the words with the same precision of Frank Sinatra. She made movies and is currently the host of a well-known TV talk show program in Buenos Aries. (F) ORCHESTRAS -- The orchestras have played a fundamental role in the development and final acceptance of tango. During the decade of the 40s, several sophisticated orchestras appeared on the scene. Each had musicians with scholar musical education and many were virtuoso solo players and they all together played in the style of great concerts (like Henry Mancini in the U.S.). During the 10s to the 20s, the good orchestras of Roberto Firpo (piano), and Francisco Canaro (violin) and Arolas dominated the field. Jose De Caro and Osvaldo Fresedo based their activities mainly in cabarets.

Starting in 1936, Juan D'Arienzo (violin), Anibal Troilo (bandoneon) in 1937, Carlos Di Sarli (piano) in 1938 and Osvaldo Pugliese (piano) in 1939 set the tone for what was going to be one of the greatest periods in tango. They were followed by many other orchestras conducted by Osmar Maderna, Miguel Calo, Raul Kaplun, Alfredo Gobbi, Jr., Ricardo Tanturi, Jose Basso, Francisco Rotundo, Alfredo D'Angelis, Carlos DiSarli, Francini-Pontier and Osvaldo Frededo, all of which participated in the further evolution of tango. Troilo and Pugliese dominated the 40s and onward. Salgan was a shining star in the 50s and 60s and finally Piazzola the great innovator was the preeminent musician from 1960 until today. Of them all, five merit special attention.
1)Anibal Troilo born in 1914, began playing bandoneon at age 13 in a trio with another great musician and pianist, Miguel Nijensohn. Found his first orchestra in 1937 (at the Marabu dancing) but it was from 1956 until his death in 1975 that he became one of the greatest interpreters, conductors and composers of his generation. (He recorded 40 of his own compositions). He was instrumental to surround himself with the best group of musical arrangers that gave his presentations a "concert quality" and the best group of singers who were able to emphasize the music played by all.

2)Osvaldo Pugliese--if playing at Carnegie Hall is the sign of ultimate achievement in classical music, to play at the "Colon Theater" (the Carnegie Hall equivalent) is an event of equal significance, especially since we talk about a tango orchestra conducted by Pugliese in 1985, when he was 80 years old, an event similar to Benny Goodman playing at Carnegie Hall. He started playing piano at age 15 in a trio and then with small groups until he founded his orchestra in 1939. He gave to the music a particular rhythm, tone and accent, a sound that was the basis for his own composition entitled, "LA YUMBA". Pugliese's base of support was the working class since he was a supporter of Communist causes and spent many days and months in jail because of his political views. During the Peron's regime his music was paradoxically in demand because of his identification with the working class but not necessarily with the Peronist Doctrine.

3)Horacio Salgan--found his orchestra in 1944 and played until 1957 when he switched to quintet. He was one of the first to incorporate in tango the influence of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Art Tatum or Fats Walker. His characteristic piano sound was sharp, brilliant and surprising in his execution with some jazz color included.

4)Marianito Mores--a very short note should be made of M. Mores who was an extraordinary pianist and excellent composer, who had his own orchestra in the 50s and 60s, and whose music tried to bridge tango with the best period of piano romanticism of the 19th century. His compositions melodically and structurally appeared to have been written by Chopin or Liszt for the flavor and color of the music, not quite proper for an Argentinean tango composer.

5)Finally, the name who achieved International recognition and is now the baby pet of orchestras and soloists (like Yo-Yo-Ma, Barenboim, Gideon Kremer, Emanuel AX, to name a few) is Astor Piazzola. He represents the change, a new and different style that opened the door to tango musical experimentation and challenges. Born in 1921, lived in NewYork since age four where later studied with the best musicians, Bela Wilda (student of Rachmaninoff), in Buenos Aires with Ginastera, and in 1954 with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. It was she who influenced him to continue writing his new style which by 1960 was called "Jazz tango". In 1968, composed the opera Maria de Buenos Aires recently premiered at Symphony Hall in 1998, and wrote cello music dedicated to Rostropovich. His "Adios Nonino" and "Balada Para Un Loco" are now classic tangos. He moved from the 2/4 rhythm to the 4/4 rhythm and added syncopated rhythms that became the basis of his well-known music for which he paid a heavy price initially since nobody in Argentina was willing or ready to accept his style in 1960s. His music was a reflection of influences received in the U.S. during his childhood and adolescent years. In 1974, made recordings with Gerry Mulligan (saxophonist). He died in 1992 and it was actually after his death and just recently that he achieved National and International recognition. His music is now acclaimed in all music halls. The guitar player Oscar Lopez Ruiz said, "that Piazzola gave a universal dimension to the tango music and elevated it to eternity". As a result, he has created a legion of a new generation of musicians who played his style of music and Gustavo Fedel and Rodolfo Mederos (who played with Barenboim) are the best representatives of the new wave.
G. CONCLUSION -- lately there has been an explosion in the demand for tango music in Argentina where radio stations in AM/FM broadcast tangos 24 hours a day. There is a new tango orchestra of Buenos Aires. There are several new places for night shows catered to tourists and there is a National Academy of tango dedicated to the scholarly studies of this music, writers and interpreters.

The new wave of composers and lyricist respond to the new realities of life in Argentina, its people, their new habits and problems as they occurred on a daily basis.

There has also been an explosion of tango in the U.S. since that famous movie of Al Paccino. Tango shows like Forever Tango have multiplied and even radio and TV commercials are using tango for background music.

For tango lovers in Chicago we are fascinated with Maestro Barenboim, who was born and lived in Buenos Aires until age 10, and has brought tango music to the most distinguished music halls in the U.S. The tango music he introduced is in the form of a trio with a bandoneon and double bass, not the same instruments but in a trio style, just as it was started, and played in the ill-reputed houses of Buenos Aires over 100 years ago. It has taken a long wait before it achieved the National and International acceptance, recognition, and respectability of today, but it has been worth it, because it takes "Two 2 Tango": The music and the people who enjoys it.


(1)Janny Scott New York Times June 11, 1999

(2)Carlos Ibarguren In: El Tango - Horacio Salas (1996) Page 11.

(3)Irv Kupcinet Chicago Sun-Times Sept. 22, 1999, Page 14

(4)Ernesto Sabato Tango, Discusion y Clave Editorial Losada - Buenos Aires 1997, Page 52 - Page 97

(5)Horacio Salas El Tango - 1996 - Editorial Planeta Argentina

(6)Blas Matamoro Musical Origins of Tango In History of Tango Manuel Pampin, Editor, 1976 (Book 1)

(7)Jose Gobello Origin of Tango Word In History of Tango Manuel Pampkin, Editory, (Book 1)

(8)Rodriguez Molas In: El Tango - Horacio Salas - Page 37

(9)Felix LunaBreve Historia De Los Argentinos(short history of the Argentines)Editorial Planeta - Buenos Aires March, 1994

(10)Manuel Nudler Tango Judio Editorial Sudamericana Buenos Aires, 1998

(11)Jose Judkowski El Tango, Una Historia Con Judios(History of Tango and the Jews)

(12)Andres M. Carretero Tango, Testigo Social. Ediciones Continente April 1999, Page 113

(13) Virgilio Exposito Clarin - May 13, 1993 - Pages 52 and 53.Report of an Interview by Journalists of Clarin Newspaper.


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