Benny Moré (Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez, 24 August 1919 – 19 February 1963), or Beny, was a gifted Cuban singer. He is often thought of as the greatest Cuban popular singer of all time. He was gifted with an innate musicality and fluid tenor voice which he colored and phrased with great expressivity. Moré was a master of most genres of Cuban music, such as the son montuno, mambo, guaracha, and bolero. In particular, it is unusual for a singer to be equally proficient at both the fast rhythms (e.g. guaracha) and the slower rhythms, such as the bolero. Moré also formed and led the leading Cuban big band of the 1950s, until his death in 1963.
The eldest of eighteen children, Moré was born Bartolomé Moré in Santa Isabel de las Lajas in the former province of Las Villas in central Cuba. His maternal great-great grandfather, Ta Ramón Gundo Paredes, was said to be the son of the king of a tribe in the Congo who was captured by slave traders and sold to a Cuban plantation owner (he was later liberated and died as a freeman at age 64).
As a child Moré learned to play the guitar, making his first instrument at age six, according to his mother, out of a board and a ball of string.
In 1936, at age seventeen, he left Las Lajas for Havana, where he lived by selling bruised and damaged fruits and vegetables and medicinal herbs. Six months later he returned to Las Lajas and went to cut cane for a season with his brother Teodoro. With the money he earned and Teodoro's savings, he bought his first decent guitar.
In 1940, Moré returned to Havana. He lived from hand-to-mouth, playing in bars and cafés, passing the hat.
Moré's first breakthrough was winning a radio competition. In the early 1940s, the radio station CMQ had a program called "The Supreme Court of Art" in which a wide variety of artists participated. Winners were given contracts by unscrupulous businessmen who exploited them. The less fortunate were treated to the humiliation of a loud church bell which brutally terminated their performances.
In his first appearance, Moré had scarcely begun to sing when the bell sounded. He later competed again and won first prize. He then landed his first stable job with the Cauto conjunto led by Mozo Borgellá. He also sang with success on the radio station CMZ with the sextet Fígaro of Lázaro Cordero. In 1944, he made his debut on station 1010 performing with the Cauto quartet.
Ciro Rodríguez, of the famed Trío Matamoros, heard Moré singing in the bar El Temple and was greatly impressed. Shortly thereafter, Conjunto Matamoros was engaged for a live performance for the station 1010. However, Miguel Matamoros was indisposed and asked Mozo Borgellá (director of Septeto Cauto), to lend him a singer. Borguellá sent Moré, who remained several years with the Matamoros, making a number of recordings.
Moré replaced Miguel Matamoros as lead singer, and the latter dedicated himself to leading the band.
In 1945 Moré went with Conjunto Matamoros to Mexico, where he performed in two of the most famous cabarets of the age, the Montparnasse and the Río Rosa. He made several recordings. Conjunto Matamoros returned to Havana, but Moré remained in Mexico. Rafael Cueto said to him: "Fine, but just remember that they call burros "bartolo" here. Stay, but change your name." "Ok," replied Moré, "from now on my name is Beny, Beny Moré."
Moré was left penniless and obtained permission to work from the performing artists' union. With this, he was able to get a job at the Río Rosa, where he formed the duet Dueto Fantasma with Lalo Montané.
He composed and recorded some Mambos in Mexico, with Mexican orchestras, specially with the one directed by Rafael de Paz; they recorded Yiri yiri bon, La Culebra, Mata siguaraya, Solamente una vez and "Bonito y Sabroso", a song where he praises the dancing skills of the Mexicans, and claims that Mexico City and La Habana are sister cities. Also in Mexico, Benny and Perez Prado recorded several mambos including "La mucura" , "Rabo y oreja", "Mucho Corazón", "Ensalada de mambo" and "Pachito e che" . In this time Benny also recorded with the orchestra of Jesús "Chucho" Rodríguez. El "Chucho" was so impressed with Benny's musical ability that he referred to him as "El Barbaro del Ritmo". There are also recordings with the orchestra of Mariano Mercerón, like Me voy pal pueblo y Desdichado.
At the end of 1950, Moré returned to Cuba. He was a star in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and Puerto Rico, but virtually unknown on the island. His first Cuban recording was Bonito y Sabroso. Moré began alternating between performances in the Cadena Oriental and trips to Havana to record at the RCA studios.
In Havana, Moré worked for the radio station RHC Cadena Azul, with the orchestra of Bebo Valdés, who introduced the new style called "batanga". The presenter of the show, Ibraín Urbino, presented him as El Bárbaro del Ritmo. They offered him the opportunity to record with Sonora Matancera, but he declined the offer because he didn't care for the sound of the group.
After the batanga fell out of fashion, Moré was contracted by Radio Progreso with the orchestra of Ernesto Duarte. In addition to the radio, he also performed at dances, cabarets and parties. When he sang in Havana's Centro Gallego, people filled the sidewalks and the gardens of the Capitolio to hear him.
In 1952, Moré made a recording with the Orquesta Aragón and he decided that he would perform with this group in the dance halls. Orquesta Aragón was from Cienfuegos and was having trouble breaking into Havana and Moré helped them in this way.
At this point, Moré broke with Duarte when he discovered that Duarte was not taking him to Saturday and Sunday gigs because he was black. Moré was furious. He presented himself to the agent of RCA in Cuba and told him he was not going to record again with the orchestra of Duarte. Moré decided at that point to start his own orchestra.
The first performance of Moré's Banda Gigante (Big Band) was in the program Cascabeles Candado of the station CMQ. The Banda was generally sixteen musicians, comparable in size with the orchestras of Xavier Cugat and Pérez Prado. Although Moré could not read music, he arranged material by singing parts to his arrangers.
In the years 1954 and 1955, the Banda Gigante became immensely popular. In 1956 and 1957, it toured Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Mexico and the United States, where the group played at the Oscar ceremonies. In Havana, it played at the dance halls La Tropical and El Sierra. In 1960, it started performing both night and day.
The following musicians were its original members:
In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, many of Cuba's top musical figures emigrated, but Moré stayed in Cuba, among, as he said, "mi gente" (my people).
He is also remembered in books, such as Miami-based writer Daína Chaviano's 2008 novel The Island of Eternal Love, in which Moré appears as one of the characters, and the University Press of Florida's 2009 book, Wildman of rhythm: the life and music of Benny Moré, the first English language biography of Moré.