SEPTEMBER 14, 1989 – Musician/bandleader/composer PEREZ PRADO (b. December 11, 1916 in Matanzas, Cuba as Dámaso Pérez Prado) died of a stroke in Mexico City, Mexico at age 72. Although he did not create the genre (Orestes López and his brother Cachao did in 1937), Perado has been recognized as a key figure in the popularization of mambo and Cuban dance music in general across the world in the 1950s. His success came from his adaptation of the fast mambo rhythm to the American-style big bands of the 1940s and away from the quieter Cuban charanga. He frequently made brief appearances in films, primarily of the rumberas genre.
The success of his orchestra and hits such as “Mambo No. 5” earned him the nickname “King of the Mambo.” His stage name was simply Pérez Prado, although his brother Pantaleón also used the same name in the 1970s, which led to confusion.Pérez’s mother Sara Prado was a school teacher, his father Pablo Pérez a newspaper journalist at El Heraldo de Cuba. He studied classical piano in his early childhood at the Principal School of Matanzas under the direction of Rafael Somavilla, and later played organ and piano in local clubs. For a time, he was pianist and arranger for the Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s best-known musical group at the time. He also worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s. He was nicknamed “El Cara de Foca” (“Seal Face”) by his peers at the time.Prado worked with a variety of musicians who would go on to have successful careers. In 1946, he worked with guaracha singer Orlando Guerra “Cascarita,” who became one of the leading exponents of the genre.
In Mexico, he helped launch the career of Beny Moré in 1949, with hits such as “Anabacoa.” In America, he worked with West-Coast trumpeters such as Maynard Ferguson, Pete Candoli and Ollie Mitchell (featured on “Flight of the Bumble Bee”), trombonist-vocalist Ray Vasquez, and a variety of percussionists, including Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaría and Alex Acuña.In 1949, Perez moved to Mexico where he formed his own band and signed a recording contract with the International division of RCA Victor in Mexico City. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban danzón. Perez’s mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong saxophone counterpoints, and most of all, Pérez’s trademark grunts (he actually says “¡Dilo! (“Say it!”) in many of the perceived grunts). In 1950, arranger Sonny Burke heard “Qué rico el mambo” while on vacation in Mexico and recorded it back in the United States. The single was a hit, which led Pérez to launch a US tour. He was to record the song again some years later under the title “Mambo Jambo.” Pérez’s appearances in 1951 were sell-outs. RCA Victor record producers Herman Diaz Jr. and Ethel Gabriel signed Prado to RCA Victor in the US and produced his best-selling recording of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.Pérez and his Orchestra performed at the famed tenth Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. on June 20, 1954. He performed along with The Flairs, Count Basie and his Orchestra, Lamp Lighters, Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, Christine Kittrell, and Ruth Brown.Pérez is the composer of such famous pieces as “Mambo No. 5” (later a UK chart-topper for both Lou Bega in 1999 and animated character Bob the Builder in 2001) and “Mambo No. 8.” The mambo craze peaked in the US in 1955, when Pérez hit the American charts at #1 with a cha-cha-chá version of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (composed by French composer Louiguy).
This arrangement, featuring trumpeter Billy Regis, held the spot for 10 consecutive weeks, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The song also went to #1 in the UK and in Germany. Perez had first recorded this title for the movie “Underwater!” in 1954, where Jane Russell can be seen dancing to “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” In 1958 one of Perez’s own compositions, “Patricia”, became the last record to ascend to #1 on the Jockeys and Top 100 charts, both of which gave way the following week to the then newly introduced Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also went to #1 in Germany, and in the UK it reached #8. The Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini chose to play “Patricia” twice in his 1960 masterpiece, “La Dolce Vita,” in the restaurant on the beach and during the striptease scene.His popularity in the United States matched the peak of the first wave of interest in Latin music outside the Hispanic and Latino communities during the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. Prado’s mambo records and the joyous dancing they caused, are described in a later chapter of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel “On the Road” (1957). He also performed in films in the United States and Europe, as well as in Mexican cinema, always with his trademark goatee and turtle-neck sweaters and vests. Pérez’s popularity began to wane by 1960, and the new decade gave way to new rhythms, such as rock and roll and then pop music. His association with RCA Victor ended in the mid-1960s, and afterward his recorded output was mainly limited to smaller labels with limited distribution and recycled Latin-style anthologies.In the early 1970s, Pérez returned permanently to his spacious apartment off Mexico City’s grand Paseo de la Reforma to live with his wife and two children, son Dámaso Pérez Salinas (known as Pérez Prado Jr.) and daughter María Engracia. While his career in the US had declined, his popularity in Latin America was still strong, and he toured and continued to record material released in Mexico, South America, and Japan. He was revered as one of the reigning giants of the music industry and was a regular performer on Mexican television. A live concert recording of his 1973 tour was released by RCA in Japan on LP in Quadraphonic sound.In 1981, Pérez was featured in a musical revue entitled “Sun,” which enjoyed a long run in the Mexican capital.
In 1983 his brother Pantaleón Pérez Prado, a musician who was also known professionally as Pérez Prado, died, and the press erroneously reported Dámaso’s death. His final appearance in the US was in Hollywood on September 12, 1987 when he played to a packed house. This was also the year of his final recording. Persistent ill health plagued him for the last two years of his life.Many of Prado’s recordings have been featured in film soundtracks. “Patricia” was included in La Dolce Vita (1960), Goodbye, Columbus (1969) and Space Cowboys (2000), as well as the episode “Some Enchanted Evening” (1990) of the animated sitcom The Simpsons.His songs “Caballo Negro,” “Lupita,” and “Mambo no. 8” featured in the film “Santa Sangre” (1989) by Alejandro Jodorowsky. His recording of “Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White)” featured in the films “Deal of the Century” (1983), “Cookie” (1989) and “Parents” (1989).Prado became a naturalized citizen of Mexico in 1980. In the decade after his death, the popularity of Perez’s music was on the rise again. CD reissues of his RCA recordings continue to sell steadily. “Guaglione” peaked at #2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1995 and reached #1 in the Irish singles chart, following its use in the Guinness television commercial Anticipation.
“Mambo No. 5” was featured in another Guinness commercial, Swimblack, in 1998 (the year before Lou Bega took his sampled cover version of that same song to the top of the UK chart).The soundtrack to the 1997 action thriller “Mean Guns” heavily features the music of Prado, as it is the favorite choice of Ice T’s character in the film. The soundtrack to the 1999 movie “Office Space” featured two of his performances, “Mambo No. 8” and “The Peanut Vendor.” The soundtrack to the 2004 movie “Diarios De Motociclet” a featured Perez’s “Qué Rico El Mambo,” more commonly known as “Mambo Jambo.”In 1999, Prado was posthumously inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Avant-garde musician Nurse With Wound recorded a tribute, “Funeral Music for Perez Prado,” exceeding 30 minutes in length. Pérez Prado’s song “La Chunga” has been used as the theme music for several versions of “The Spud Goodman Show.”Pérez Prado’s son, Pérez Jr., continues to direct the Pérez Prado Orchestra in Mexico City to this day.