Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Jazz Flashes Podcast: Interview with John Radanovich on Cuban Singer Benny More
In his native Cuba, vocalist Benny More (whose first name was sometimes spelled as "Beny" on record covers and whose nickname was "El Barbaro del Ritmo," i.e. "The Wildman of Rhythm") has transcended his status as a popular singer to become an iconic figure, someone who is still spoken of with reverence many decades after his untimely death in 1963. And there's good reason for that, judging by the handful of phenomenal recordings he made in the 1950s and by the few videos of live performances that have survived, many of which may be enjoyed on YouTube. Though he came from a humble background and had no formal musical training, he had a fantastic ear for music and composed unforgettable melodies such as "Que Bueno Baila Usted" or "Santa Isabel de las Lajas," among many others that have become standards of Cuban music. More was comfortable in very different settings: he drew heavily on his African roots for his rhythm tunes, got a great deal of inspiration from American big bands, and was a master of the more romantic bolero. Moreover, on stage he was quite the showman, a fiery performer who always knew how to get the best out of his musicians and who would become one of Havana's most exciting performers at a very exciting time in Cuban music--the late 1940s and the 1950s. When More sings, the listener simply has to stop and listen intently, almost mesmerized by his voice and irresistible charisma.
Florida-based music critic John Radanovich, who over the decades has written for prestigious publications such as Off-Beat and Downbeat, became enthralled by More's music and personality to such an extent that he spent 15 years researching his life, including visits to Cuba at a time when it wasn't as easy for Americans to have access to the island as it may be today. The result is the only English-language biography of More, Wildman of Rhythm: The Life and Music of Benny More (University Press of Florida, 2009), a carefully researched and highly enjoyable book that is the perfect introduction to More the artist, the person, and the icon. A few weeks ago, Mr. Radanovich kindly agreed to guest on a new episode of the Jazz Flashes Podcast, and we had the chance to discuss in depth both his book and his love for More's music. The whole conversation, which I found extremely interesting, is now available to the readers of Jazz Flashes on the video below.