Born Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré on August 24, 1919, in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Cuba; died on February 19, 1963, in Havana, Cuba, from cirrhosis.
Beny Moré's voice and style influenced a generation of musicians. His incredible energy, along with his strong and individual voice, contributed to the vitality of Cuban music in the years leading up to and following the Cuban revolution. Largely self-taught, Moré excelled as a bandleader even as he battled alcoholism. His unique voice was characterized by its range. Generoso Jimenez, an original member of his Banda Gigante, described that voice to Lydia Martin of the Miami Herald. "He had an amazing range, the lows, the highs." His singing style touched emotional depths and was capable of bringing audiences to their feet. His technique was a combination of many influences, including Afro-Cuban son and guajiro, a type of music originating from Spain that was often sung where he grew up.
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré was born on August 24, 1919, in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Cuba. One of 19 children, Moré grew up in extreme poverty. At a young age he taught himself how to play guitar. To make money for his family he would perform at local parties and religious ceremonies. When he was old enough he moved to Camaguey to work in the sugar mills, while continuing to play guitar and sing. His coworkers in the sugar mills enjoyed his performances so much that they convinced him to try a career in music. Moré was not easily convinced because of the obligation he felt towards his family, and because of the money he was able to provide for them with his work at the sugar mill.
In 1940, following the advice of his coworkers, Moré moved to Havana to pursue music. During his early years in Havana he performed alone. Like a troubadour, he played his guitar and sang wherever he was welcomed. In 1945 he was invited to join the Trio Matamoros. Led by Miguel Matamoros, Trio Matamoros had been influential and popular in Cuban music since the 1920s. Moré was one of several singers who were hired to replace Matamoros when he suffered voice problems. While Moré was performing with the group, it was reorganized and Moré became the lead singer. He spent three years with the Trio, learning and absorbing the lessons from their complex style of "bolero-son," a type of bolero music they pioneered.
Moré traveled to Mexico with Trio Matamoros, where he met Perez Prado. Known as the "King of Mambo," Prado invited Moré to become a member of his orchestra. Moré performed with Prado from 1948 to 1950, all the while living in Mexico. Because the shortened version of his given name, Bartolo, was the Mexican word for "burro," Moré changed his name to Beny. During that time, Moré made many recordings on the RCA/Victor label as a member of Prado's orchestra. He also acted and sang in several movies. He returned to Cuba for a short time and performed with Mariano Meceron's orchestra before attempting a solo career back in Mexico.
In 1953 Moré returned to Cuba as a member of Bebo Valdes's Cuban big band. Accustomed to his days as a solo artist and ready to step up to greater challenges, he then decided to form his own band. It was a choice that would add another vibrant chapter to the history of Cuban music. With the help of Alfredo "Chocolate" Armentero, an acclaimed trumpet player and Moré's cousin, Moré assembled his Banda Gigante with Armentero as its first musical director.
From the very start, Moré's band was different. While most Cuban ensembles were small, Moré's was large. He modeled his orchestra on the American swing bands of the 1940s and 1950s. At one point Moré's band contained, as described by Hilda Alvarez on the website MisterLucky, "four trumpets, five saxophones, one trombone, one piano, and a full percussion section." MusicStrands reported that Ruben Blades, a singer/songwriter and actor, once said about Moré's band, "We had never seen so many guys from Latin America playing with that authority. And Beny himself had a fantastic voice." In addition to the size and professionalism of the band, there was Moré's own uniqueness. Onstage he performed energetically, often sporting a hat and distinctive clothing. Despite having no formal training in orchestration or conducting, Moré was skilled at leading his band, often referring to them as his "tribe."
Moré soon earned the nickname of "El babaro del ritmo," which is variously translated as The Barbarian of Rhythm or The Wizard of Rhythm. He and his band became internationally acclaimed and were revered throughout Cuba. Spencer Harrington of All Music Guide described Moré's ability to traverse styles easily: "He was equally successful with boleros as with mambos and rumbas. Most important is what he conveyed in his singing: a tenderness and direct emotional appeal in his boleros, a hip-shaking exuberance in his mambos."
One of Moré's most popular songs was the result of the chemistry he shared with his band, and of his ability to improvise. In 1956, playing for a Venezuelan TV show, the band had ten minutes to fill before their session ended. The band began improvising, and Moré started making up lyrics on the fly. The result was "Que Bueno Baila Usted " ("How Well You Dance"), which went on to become one of Moré's trademark songs.
Unfortunately, alcoholism presented a dark side to Moré's life, and it was one that would eventually kill him. Onstage he managed to out-perform many others and produce a captivating show, but behind the scenes it wasn't uncommon for Moré to be drinking right up to the moment he stepped on the stage. Jimenez explained to Martin, "We never worked, we partied. We would start playing without Beny, then he would show up and we would play another set, then ... we would go to Tropicana. ... Nobody went home before 10 in the morning."
Moré died in 1963 in Havana from cirrhosis of the liver, a result of his heavy drinking. He was only 43 years old. He had performed consistently up until his death. On the day he died, Cuba went into mourning and nightclubs and theaters closed. His individuality, his style, and his outstanding contribution to Cuban music have continued to influence Latin music aficionados and performers.
by Eve Hermann
Beny Moré's Career
Taught himself to play guitar as a child; performed for parties and religious ceremonies; worked in sugar mills in Camaguey; moved to Havana, 1940; performed solo on guitar until he joined Miguel Matamoros's group, 1945-48; performed with orchestra headed by Pérez Prado in Mexico, appeared in movies, recorded for RCA/Victor, 1948-50; returned to Cuba to perform with Mariano Mecerón's orchestra, 1950; solo career in Mexico, 1950-53; performed with Bébo Valdés in Cuba, 1953; formed his own orchestra, 1953-63.
- Selected discography
- Mata Siguaraya RCA/Victor, 1949; reissued, BMG, 1992.
- Magia Antillana RCA, 1949; reissued, BMG, 1991.
- Y Hoy Como Ayer BMG, 1953.
- Romantico RCA, 1968.
- The Most From Beny Moré RCA, 1976.
- Beny Moré & Oscar D'Leon T.H. Rodven, 1990.
- Maricaibo Oriental RCA, 1992.
- (With Perez Prado) El Barbaro Del Ritmo: 1948-1950 Tumbao Records, 1995.
- Exitos de Beny Moré Triangle, 1994.
- The Very Best of Beny Moré RCA International, 1995.
- En Vivo Fania, 1995.
- Baila Mi Son Caney, 1995.
- Benny Moré and Perez Prado Orfeon, 2001.
- La Historia Musical de Beny Moré (volumes 1-4), Dimsa, 2005.
- Orovia, Helio, Cuban Music from A to Z, Duke University Press, 2004.
- "Beny Moré: Biography," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (August 25, 2005).
- "Beny Moré Biography," MusicStrands, http://www.musicstrands.com/ (August 25, 2005).
- "Beny Moré, El Barbaro del Ritmo," Mister Lucky, http://www.mrlucky.com/html/music/reviews1_19/rev19.htm (August 27, 2005).
- "Brass Reunion," Miami Herald, http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y03/nov03/21e4.htm (August 27, 2005).