[In the Miami New Times version of my Cuban Originals -- Desi Arnaz review, I made the comment that "Raymond Scott, Arthur Schwartz, and Moises Simons, who composed some of the songs on Desi Arnaz, were hardly sons of Havana."
[I was wrong about that, and have corrected my review accordingly. Here is the letter to the Miami New Times setting me straight from Arturo Gómez, the music director of Miami's WDNA-FM (88.9) and host of the station's Monday edition of Latin Jazz Quarter from noon to 2:00 p.m.]
Crazy for Desi
It all started right here: In his review of Cuban Originals -- Desi Arnaz ("Rotations," August 24) Bob Tarte wrote: "Raymond Scott, Arthur Schwartz, or Moises Simons, who composed some of the songs on Desi Arnaz, were hardly sons of Havana." But in fact Moises Simons was born in Havana on August 24, 1889. He was a bandleader and pianist as well as the composer of the famous "El Manicero" ("The Peanut Vendor"). Simons composed "El Manicero" late one night in 1928 on a napkin while in a Havana tavern, having been inspired by a passing peanut vendor who was singing a pregón (jingle) to sell his cucuruchos de maní (paper cones filled with peanuts).
I was pleased Tarte knew that before I Love Lucy Desi Arnaz was already a well-known bandleader. He also was a rising star of the Broadway stage and appeared in a few movies in the Forties. More important Desi was responsible for introducing U.S. audiences to the conga rhythm of Cuba. His father was the mayor of Santiago de Cuba, and in the early Thirties became an exile here in Miami.
Desi began his musical career in Miami. One night while singing with a German dance band, he forgot his song's lyrics, but recalling the conga rhythm of the carnivals of his hometown, he brought out a tumbadora, a so-called conga drum, and taught the non-Latinos the simple one-two-three-kick steps of the conga, setting off what is referred to as the "rhumba craze." It was all the rage in the U.S. throughout the Thirties.
Desi is famous for his interpretation of "Babalu," which originally was performed by Miguelito Valdes in the Thirties. Desi often referred to Valdes as the authentic "Mr. Babalu."
Not only did I Love Lucy forever change television history because of Desi Arnaz's innovations, but his Desilu Studios went on to become the most important outlet for the best television programs from the mid-Fifties through the late Sixties.
[Many thanks to Arturo for setting my straight. When I mentioned to Arturo that I recently read Desi's autobiography, A Book, he made this reply: "I too not only read A Book, I met Desi in the early 70's when I was still living in Greater LA. He was a very shrewd business man with great vision and a much better actor than given credit for. He had many fine roles before becoming Ricky on I Love Lucy.]
The original posting of Arturo Gómez' letter is on the Miami New Times website.
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