Sunday 11 December 2016

Edmundo Ros

Bandleader whose mix of melody and rhythm popularised Latin-American dance music in the Forties and Fifties

Published 30/10/2011 | 05:00

Edmundo Ros, the bandleader, who died on October 21 aged 100, was the first to hit on the mix of melody and rhythm which made Latin-American dance music so popular in the dreary austerity days of the Forties and Fifties.

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Swinging evenings at his nightclub in Regent Street, in the West End of London, inspired fashionable denizens of cafe society to let their hair down and swivel their hips to Begin The Beguine and The Coffee Song (They've Got An Awful Lot Of Coffee in Brazil).

Edmundo Ros with members of his band An Anglicised Latin-American, Ros created a musical trademark with the slightly ironic cheerfulness which characterised his repertoire; even ballads were given a lively upbeat tempo. His shows livened up wartime radio with favourites such as The Cuban Love Song and introduced an entire generation to the Latin sound.

In the 1950s Ros began recording Broadway show tunes arranged to Latin rhythms like the mambo, cha-cha, rumba, samba, meringue and the conga. He continued to make radio broadcasts on the Light Programme and also made a series of television shows for America and Europe, reaching the height of his popularity and commercial success in the 1960s.

Edmundo William Ros was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on December 7, 1910 and grew up in Venezuela, where his father worked as an engineer. At the age of 18 Edmundo left school hoping to become a barrister, but, lacking the money to pay for his training he entered the Venezuelan Military College in Caracas.

When he joined the college band he discovered a passion for music. He mastered the saxophone, the euphonium and the drums in quick succession under the supervision of an English bandleader, Edgar Wallace. After a short spell in the Venezuelan State Orchestra, Edmundo won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1937 he arrived in England to train for a career as a classical conductor.

To escape student penury Ros touted for work as a saxophonist in London nightclubs. In 1938 he also played drums during recording sessions by Fats Waller. While singing and playing for Don Marino Baretto's Cuban band at the Embassy Club he decided to start his own outfit and in 1940 formed the five-piece Edmundo Ros Rumba Band. The following year, his first recording for Parlophone was Record of the Month.

During the war Ros was a model of patriotic activity, dividing his time between ambulance driving, radio broadcasts and entertaining what remained of London society. He played for both Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and in 1949 recorded The Wedding Samba, his most popular album which went on to sell more than a million copies.

In 1956 he took over the Coconut Grove nightclub and renamed it the Edmundo Ros Dinner and Supper Club. Ros was an old-fashioned proprietor and loved to defer to the British establishment. Considering himself the guardian of traditional standards, he took great pleasure in turning away a titled lady when she arrived wearing slacks in the company of Graham Greene.

As his career took off with regular recordings and radio dates, Ros and his first wife Britt, a former Swedish model, moved to Mill Hill and built a house called Edritt, an amalgamation of their two names. The house was a kitsch monument to their love. To symbolise their constancy they had the initials E and B entwined in copper on the door-handles.

Britt provided the plans and had the house built in the Swedish style. Illuminated fountains played in the grounds, and it was even equipped with its own projection room. But when it was finished and there was nothing else to do, Britt soon tired of her life as a bandleader's consort. In 1964 she left, and the couple were divorced after 13 years of marriage.

After his wife walked out Ros was distraught, refused to touch any of her belongings, and put the house up for sale. In the same year he met his second wife, Susan, in the guard's van on a train from Worcester to London. They shared her packed lunch and were married five years later when Susan was still only 24.

Ros's mixture of warmth, vanity and spontaneity was both troublesome and rewarding, particularly in his domestic life. He inspired such loyalty in his secretary that she only took one day off for her honeymoon and worked for him for more than 20 years. But one dismissed cook-housekeeper was so incensed by the way he treated her that she rang his house 167 times in a single day and had to be restrained by court order.

Ros's craving for the limelight got him into trouble when he claimed, on live television, to have been awarded the Freedom of the City of London for services during the war. The Corporation was furious and told the press that he had applied and paid for it like everyone else.

Ros always wanted to be at the heart of British life and would have stood for parliament as a Conservative had he been approved by Central Office. He was an unabashed snob saying: "If I'm knocked down, I would rather the car was a Rolls-Royce."

This zest for life led to a punishing schedule, often only affording him a few hours sleep a night between his club and recording commitments. He recorded 30 albums for Decca, appeared in five films and hosted a regular radio programme called The Golden Slipper Club.

At the age of 59, after a debilitating car accident, Ros sold the club to concentrate on touring. His band played on Aristotle Onassis's yacht and at parties in Las Vegas and Tahiti. His most devoted fans were in Scandinavia and Japan, where his music still sells steadily.

Since retiring in 1975, Ros had lived with his second wife Susan in Alicante, Spain.

An 80th birthday show on BBC Radio generated requests for interviews and documentaries.

In 1994 Ros conducted and sang with the BBC Big Band with Strings in a concert broadcast on BBC Radio 2. A Japanese recording company then invited him to record another Edmundo Ros CD.

He was appointed OBE in 2000.

Edmundo Ros is survived by his wife and two children.

Sunday Independent

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