Another titan has left us: Bebo Valdes has shuttled off this mortal coil, this past Friday in Sweden, where he lived for fifty years. He was at the end a spry nonagenarian of 94. He won three Grammys six Latin Grammys.
Bebo, patriarch of three generations of great Cuban pianists, sons Chucho and grandson Chuchito, returned to the scene a few years ago, recording the Miguel Matamoros classic Lagimas Negras, with flamenco singer Diego El Cigala. The record was a big success and the two artists did a short tour of the U.S. When Bebo returned to pick up a grammy he won, however, his visa was denied. Homeland Security decided that even though he’d been a Swedish citizen since the early 1960s, he was still born on La Isla. The Castro government has already denied his existence since he left, now the Republicans rejected him again. I’m sure glad the Department of Homeland Security prevented this dangerous pianist from entering the U.S.! Our lives would have been threatened by his music!
No matter. He and his music have been celebrated for many years. The recent–and very sexy– animated film Chico & Rita was inspired by Bebo. Rosa Lowinger’s wonderful book Tropicana Nights, which she wrote with Ofelia Fox, the wife of club owner Martin Fox, told of Bebo being pianist and music director of the fabulous house orchestra of the legendary nightclub in pre-Castro Cuba. Those music and dance revues sounded amazing.
Bebo was performing until the very end. His legacy will live on with his music and that of his son and grandson, Chucho and Chuchito Valdes.
Here he is with that other mambo king, bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, performing Lagrimas Negras:
….and the same classic song, here with El Cigala: