11 December 1916
14 September 1989 (aged 72)
Pérez Prado (Dámaso Pérez Prado, December 11, 1916 – September 14, 1989) was a Cuban bandleader, musician (singer, organist and pianist), and composer. He is often referred to as the "King of the Mambo".
Pérez was actually his surname, he became known by the paternal and maternal surnames "Pérez Prado."
His orchestra was the most popular in mambo. His son, Pérez Prado, Jr., continues to direct the Pérez Prado Orchestra in Mexico City to this day.
Perez was born in Matanzas, Cuba, his mother Sara Prado was a school teacher, his father Pablo Pérez a journalist at El Heraldo de Cuba. He studied classical piano in his early childhood, 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. He also worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s, and gained a reputation for being an imaginative (his solo playing style predated bebop by at least five years), loud player. He was nicknamed "El Cara de Foca" ("Seal Face") by his peers at the time.
In 1948 he moved to Mexico to form his own band and record for RCA Victor. 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!", or "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 to launch a US tour. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs and he began recording US releases for RCA Victor.
Perez is the composer of such famous pieces as "Mambo No. 5" and "Mambo No. 8". At the height of the mambo movement, in 1955, Perez hit the American charts at number one with a cha-cha 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. The song also went to number one in the UK and in Germany. Perez had first covered this title for the movie Underwater! in 1954, where Jane Russell can be seen dancing to "Cherry Pink". 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 number one in Germany, and in the UK it reached number eight.
His popularity in the United States matched the peak of the first wave of interest in Latin music outside the Latino communities during the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. He also performed in films in the United States and Europe, as well as in Mexican cinema (Rumberas film), always with his trademark goatee and turtle-neck sweaters and vests. With the end of the 1950s, his success waned, and the years gave way to new rhythms, like rock 'n roll and then pop music. His association with RCA Victor ended in the 1960s, and his recorded output was mainly limited to smaller labels and recycled Latin-style anthologies. In the United States he was referred to as "Prez" Prado.
In the early 1970s Perez permanently returned to his apartment off Mexico City's grand Paseo de la Reforma to live with his wife and two children, son Dámaso Pérez Salinas (known as Perez Prado, Jr.) and daughter María Engracia. His career in Latin America was still strong. He toured and continued to record material which was 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. In Japan, a live concert recording of his 1973 tour was released on LP in an early 4-channel format known as Quadraphonic.
In 1981 Perez was featured in a musical revue entitled Sun which enjoyed a long run in the Mexican capital. In 1983 his brother Pantaleón Pérez Prado died, and the press erroneously reported the death of bandleader Pérez Prado. His last United States appearance was in Hollywood on September 12, 1987, when he played to a packed house. This was also the year of his last recording. Persistent ill health plagued him for the next two years, and he died of a stroke in Mexico City on September 14, 1989, aged 72.
During his lifetime, a cast of musical luminaries passed through his orchestra, including:
Alex Acuña, percussion
Pete Candoli, trumpet
Beny Moré, vocals
Johnny Pacheco, percussion
Armando Peraza, percussion
Mongo Santamaría, percussion
"Patricia" was later featured in
the striptease scene in Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita
background music for a pool party in the 1969 film Goodbye, Columbus
the episode "Some Enchanted Evening" of the animated sitcom The Simpsons, first aired on May 13, 1990.
a long-running series of famous TV commercials for the Royal Mail in the UK (using the slogan "I Saw This and Thought of You") between 1996 and 2003
the closing credits of HBO's Real Sex series
the 2000 Clint Eastwood movie Space Cowboys
His mambo records and the joyous dancing they caused are described in a late chapter of Jack Kerouac's seminal novel, On the Road (1957).
His songs "Caballo Negro", "Lupita", and "Mambo n.8" are featured in the film Santa Sangre (1989) by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
His recording of "Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White)" features in the films Deal of the Century (1983), Cookie (1989) and Parents (1989).
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 number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1995, following its use in the Guinness television commercial Anticipation.
"Mambo No. 5" was featured in another Guinness commercial in 1999, the same year Lou Bega took his sampled cover version of that same song to the top of the UK chart,
The soundtrack to the 1999 movie Office Space features two of his performances, "Mambo No. 8" and "The Peanut Vendor."
The soundtrack to the 2004 movie Diarios de Motocicleta features Perez's "Qué rico el mambo", more commonly known as "Mambo Jambo".
Avant-garde musician Nurse With Wound released a compilation entitled Funeral Music for Perez Prado in 2001. The album's title track exceeds 30 minutes.
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