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Q: Which tango singer would have been 100 yesterday?

posted Dec 7, 2014, 10:32 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Dec 7, 2014, 10:44 PM ]
North Sydney tango lessons
Castillo singing with Canaro's Orchestra

A: Alberto Castillo
 
 
I tried to get this post out on 7 December, the 100 year anniversary of his birth, but to no avail...
better one day late than never!

What sets him apart?

Why was Castillo so idolised as a tango and candombe singer, and what are the features of his singing that distinguished him from other singers of his era?


1) He had a unique voice and nuance:

"...when Castillo faces deep themes, the tenderness he conveys is striking. Definitively, he is a "voice that does not sound like any other's voice", as the unforgettable Julián Centeya wisely said. Nor his style is like anyone's; when he himself said that his peculiar phrasing was what the dancers needed - "people moved according to the nuances of my voice" ...and he never deviated from that way of singing, of that natural style of tango, to which a detail of great importance must be added: his perfect intonation."1

2) His way of moving on the stage:

"His way of moving on the stage, his way of handling the microphone and bouncing it to and fro, his right hand close to his mouth like street vendor, his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, his shirt collar unbuttoned and the necktie, loose. All was unprecedented, everything produced sensation, even his improvised boxing fights when he sang  'Qué saben los pitucos!' "2

3) He had a tendency to go hoarse

4) He was the main interpreter of the black-oriented genres of candombe and milonga.  

Here's more on this celebrated singer, actor, lyricist and physician1...

Alberto Castillo was born as Alberto Salvador De Lucca in the Mataderos district of Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of Italian immigrants - Salvador De Lucca and Lucía Di Paola.

From early childhood Castillo showed a natural musical talent and inclination towards music.  He studied the violin and sang whenever and wherever he had the chance.

Afraid that his father might object to him singing professionally, Castillo alternated between the stage names of Alberto Dual and Carlos Duval. An amusing anecdote tells of his father listening to him sing on Radio Paris and saying "He sings very well; he has a voice like Albertito's"2

In the 1930s Castillo made his professional debut and in 1941 began a successful recording career. His first hit was with Tanturi's orchestra - a cover of the Alfredo Pelala song Recuerdo - which was released on January 8, 1941. At this time he adopted his last and everlasting stage name of Alberto Castillo.

A Physician

In 1938 Castillo stopped singing to focus completely to his training to be a gynaecologist. But tango was still his great passion and a year prior to graduating he joined he Typical Orchestra Los Indios. The orchestra which was led by the pianist Ricardo Tanturi who was coincidentally a dentist by training. 

In 1942 Castillo graduated and started consulting as a gynaecologist in a room at his parents' home...

"So in the afternoons, doctor Alberto Salvador De Lucca left his consulting room for ladies and ran to the radio to turn into the singer Alberto Castillo. There were complications when in the waiting room of his consulting room there was no more space for so many women, mostly, young. There was an explanation: the singer had an incredible appeal on the weaker sex and as news had spread that he was a gynaecologist, those who found out where his consulting room was, run to be treated by him. 

Castillo remembered the story which revealed the never ending flow of ladies into his consulting room: "Are you ready, madam?", he asked to a patient that was undressing behind a folding screen, and she answered not at all embarrassed: "I am, doctor. And you?" "

"Those insinuations did not please much" (sic), he confessed, and finally he gave up the medical profession to fully devote himself to singing."3

Castillo also had some experience as a sport physician: 

"In December 1951, the Vélez Sársfield soccer team, which he supported, was on a tour of Brazil, and several players came down with heatstroke in Pernambuco, where Castillo was scheduled to perform. A member of the Vélez delegation contacted Castillo, who tended to the players and stayed with the team for the remainder of the tour, rescheduling some of his shows to fit the team's agenda."4

Castillo's medical background came in useful for the Argentine movie "Luna de Avellaneda"), where (in a fictitious story) he is summoned to deliver a baby right after finishing singing at a carnival fair. 

His medical profession also came in useful in another very useful way! It reassured the parents of his fiancee (Ofelia Orneto) that he was good 'marriage material'. They agreed to let their daughter (Ofelia Orneto) marry Castillo given that he was "more than just a tango singer"Castillo married Ofelia on June 6, 1945.  

Alberto and Ofelia had three children -  Alberto Jorge (gynaecologist, obstetrician), Viviana Ofelia (veterinarian and ago-engineer) and Gustavo Alberto (plastic surgeon). 

Castillo left Tanturi's orchestra around 1943 and from then on developed his singing career as a soloist. He started experimenting with candombe,  and including black dancers in his shows. 

His first candombe recording with Charol which was a hit both in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This success encouraged him to record further candombe songs: Siga el Baile, Baile de Los Morenos, El Cachivachero and a song that he wrote himself - Candonga

One of his most successful recordings was the tango vals song Cien Barrios Porteños. The song was such a hit and so identified with Castillo  that he would from then on often be introduced as "The Singer of the 100 Barrios".

You can hear Castillo singing Cien Barrios Porteños here:

Castillo's last success was in 1993, when he recorded the candombe song Siga el Baile with the orchestra -  Los Auténticos Decadentes.

I haven't been able to find footage of Castillo singing Siga el Baile in 1993 but here he is singing the song in the movie Ritmo, Amor y Picardia, released in 1954:


As previously mentioned, this multi-talented man was also a lyricist. Songs for which he penned the lyrics consist of:

Yo Soy de la Vieja Ola
Muchachos, Escuchen
Cucusita 
Así Canta Buenos Aires 
Un Regalo del Cielo 
A Chirolita
¡Dónde me Quieren Llevar!
Castañuelas
Cada día Canta Más
La Perinola” and “Año Nuevo (marches)

Castillo also had a natural talent for acting. Between 1946 and 1959 he appeared in a number of Argentine movies, debuting with Adiós Pampa Mía, and subsequently appearing in the following movies:
  
El Tango Vuelve a París
Un Tropezón Cualquiera da en la Vida  
Alma de Bohemio 
La Barra de la Esquina
Buenos Aires, Mi Tierra Querida
Por Cuatro Días Locos 
Ritmo, Amor y Picardía
Música, Alegría y Amor 
Luces de Candilejas

This idol of the Golden Era was still performing in 2001!.

"I personally had the pleasure to dance at the Centro Cultural Torcuato Tasso, last year, when he came to sing to this place. He was walking with some difficulty and had to be helped to step on the stage. But once over the stage, he captured all the audience, and sang for almost one hour without interruption. It was an unforgettable experience, to share the dancing with a lot of young people that came to see him.

He will be remembered as an authentic singer, one that sang for the people to dance, and also was a kind and humble man.

He liked to start his shows saying "I belong to the people, from the people I receive all what I am, and to the people I give all that I can." - Alberto Gesualdi (2002)

Castillo passed away in 2002 and is buried in La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
 
References also from To Tango, Todo Tango and WIkipedia