Benny Moré revolutionized the Latin music scene with his singing and superb sense of music. His improvisations while singing, prolific song writing, and his “Giant Band”, made him one of the greats of Latin music.
Note: this blog was originally published Aug 25, 2009. I updated it in June 2018.
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutierrez, was born on August 24th, 1919 in the neighborhood of “Pueblo Nuevo” in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas in Cuba. He died on February of 1963. Therefore, this year we commemorate the 55th year of his passing.
Benny’s Career Highlights:
Benny Moré was not a very educated musician, as he was self-thought, something not unusual in those days in Cuba, as another contemporary and great Cuban master of the Son, Arsenio Rodriguez, learned to play the Cuban “tres” guitar mostly by himself.
However, Benny was a superb Latin music singer. He started at a very early age, by singing in bars and cafes when he was a teenager. He developed a unique style, and besides having a great ear for the various Cuban rhythms, he became a prolific song writer as well.
His professional career began after having lost in a Cuban radio show singing competition (I guess these would be the very 1st versions of “American Idol”), and decided to compete again, obtaining the win. From there, he started singing and recording with some groups.
His big break came when Miguel Matamoros, founder of the famous “Trio Matamoros” could not sing one night and had Benny substitute for him. From there, Benny Moré became the group’s main singer, and Miguel Matamoros stayed as the group’s leader.
Benny More with Mataroros
In 1945, Benny traveled to Mexico with the “Trio Matamorros” and became very popular there. That was when the Trio expanded to become the Conjunto Matamoros, with Benny as lead singer.
With the Conjunto Matamoros, Benny More recorded several albums. The time wiht them served Benny well as his name got more recognition which would serve him well in his solo career.
Here’s Benny More with the Conjunto Matamoros singing a song that was later made popular by Johnny Pacheco in his 1977 album “The Artist”. The song is “Me La Llevo”, although Pacheco renamed it “Esa Prieta”.
Benny More Goes Solo
Benny left the Matamoros to sing and record with other groups in Mexico, and also participated in approximately 15 movies. Some of the footage of those movies is what we have left of Benny, besides his numerous recordings.
His fame spread to other countries in Latin America, like Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama, but not to Cuba. Because of that, he returned to Cuba in 1950. Upon his return, he first sang with Bebo Valdes (father of Irakere’s founder Chucho Valdes). Afterwards, he later joined in with the famous Orquesta Aragón.
Benny was offered to record with La Sonora Matancera, as it was that group’s custom to record with the most famous artist of the time. La Matancera had guest singers from Cuba and other countries like Puerto Rico. However, Benny refused, supposedly because he didn’t like the sound of the Sonora Matancera.
In the mid-1950’s Benny Moré put together his “Giant Band” composed of 40 musicians. His “Giant Band” became a hit, and he again traveled throughout Latin America. Benny Moré died in 1963, at the young age of 43 of complication of cirrhosis. The below video shows Benny Moré with his “Giant Band” performing “Vertiente Camaguey”, and includes some short interviews with some of his ex-band members, and also with Celia Cruz to provide context. Watch the video below:
Benny Moré; Great singer and Songwriter
Benny Moré was a great singer, and a prolific song writer. He could sing Son, Guaguanco, Rumba, and many other latin music rhythms, including Boleros. But one of the most important qualities that distinguished him as a singer was his ability for improvisation. Benny Moré could improvise on almost any occasion.
Besides his most famous nickname “El Bárbaro del Ritmo” (The Barbarous of Rhythm) he was also known as “Sonero Mayor”, a fact which I just learned today from an article I read in MSN Latino (“Cuba Celebra a Benny Moré en su Natalicio Noventa”). The artist most people associate with “El Sonero Mayor” is Puerto Rico’s Ismael Rivera, another great improviser of his time. As Benny, Ismael Rivera could improvise in Bomba, Plena, Son, Guaracha, or almost any latin music rhythm.
Benny Moré knew how to use his superb voice in boleros. In the video below, he sings one of his most famous.
Who is the Real “Sonero Mayor”?
There is a great story about that. Benny Moré was invited to Puerto Rico several times. The great musicologist and producer Gilbert Mamery brought Benny to an activity in Mayaguez. As his backup band, he hired the young Cortijo y Su Combo so Benny could sing with them.
But it turns out the event in Mayaguez wasn’t the only one where they played together. Puerto Rico’s Telemundo TV station in San Juan invited Benny to their main show “La Taberna India”, where Cortijo was the house band.
Elias Lopes, was a kid at the time, and would go on to become a great Puerto Rican trumpeter. He went to see the show at the studio more to see Cortijo’s trumpeter Kito Velez than for Benny. However he witnessed a great event that happened in the studio.
In this video, the late Elias Lopes (who would eventually grow up to play with Ithier in El Gran Combo) and the late comedian Shorty Castro make the story of how Ismael Rivera got the nickname “El Sonero Mayor”.
Benny Moré Songs and Tribute Albums:
I’m not a collectionist of Benny Moré recordings, so I can’t recommend you anything first hand. Although I’m in the process of expanding my collection and like Arsenio Rodriguez, almost anything from Benny Moré will be good.
Before we get into albums, it’s worth mentioning that a contemporary singer that always admired Benny Moré is Oscar D’Leon. He has recorded many Cuban classics including a handful from Benny.
Oscar finally was able to visit Cuba, and there played the Benny Moré song that gave him wide name recognition in the international Salsa world. This live rendition by Oscar D’Leon of Benny’s “Mata Siguaraya” is one of the best Salsa videos I’ve even seen.
However, I will recommend you get Tito Puente’s album “Homenaje a Benny Moré” (the 1st one, not Vol. 2).
This is a Grammy Award winning 1979 recording, with Tito Puente bringing together an All Star cast of musicians and singers. These include Cheo Feliciano, Celia Cruz, Adalberto Santiago, Santos Colon, Héctor Casanova, Nestor Sanchez, Junior Gonzalez, and Luigi Texidor among others.
Almost all tracks in this recording are excellent, but my favorite in this recording full of son montunos and guaguancos, is the bolero “Encantado de la Vida”, masterfully song by a duet of Celia Cruz and Cheo Feliciano, with Tito Puente doing his usually superb art in the vibraphone. This is one recording that should not be missing in your Salsa collection.
Enjoy below the video clip of the song “Encantado de la Vida”, with Celia Cruz and Cheo Feliciano.
I would love to hear what are your Benny Moré favorites! Feel free to add your comments below!
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