José Moriche (b. 1890 in Badajoz, Spain), a tenor, came to New York in early 1922 after a tour that took him to Mexico and Havana. Moriche started singing in the incipient radio, and recording for Columbia and for the smaller label Okeh. Before 1933 Moriche went on to record more than 519 tracks, but not many Tangos.
The Spanish-speaking population in New York at the time was less than 40 thousand souls, the vast majority of which was not from South America. Instead, according to The New York Times, half of them came from Spain, and the rest from countries close to the Unites States (Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominicana), and concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Spanish immigrants established Social Clubs that held events for the community in New York and in near cities like Bayonne and Newark. The most notable were the Centro Andaluz on 59-61 Henry Street in Brooklyn, and the Unión Benéfica Española on 239 W 14th St in Manhattan (the current location of "La Nacional"). Arcos, Piquer and Moriche were part of a larger group of Spanish performers that dominated the Latin music scene in New York in the early 1920s. These artists were very active in theater, in particular in the Spanish zarzuela, and many traveled throughout Latinamerica. In the coming years they also appeared together in many shows for charities, and many of these so-called "beneficios" took place in the Social Clubs.
The Flamenco dancer María Montero arrived in New York in March 1922 after touring Mexico, the Caribbean and Colombia since 1919. Soon after arriving she appeared at a banquet organized by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in the Hotel Astor in Times Square to introduce its first chairman William Hays. The event was attended by notables like Mayor John F. Hylan, media magnate William Randolph Hearst, Famous Players' Adolph Zukor, and actress Mae Murray. In June Montero appeared on Broadway and by October she was dancing at the Strand Theater on 47th Street. She also joined the production company Teatro Español and worked with Conchita Piquer.
In March 1923, in Hartford, Connecticut, Anton Scibilia launched his new revue Land of Tango. Scibilia was likely trying to piggyback on the popularity of Gloria Swanson's new movie My American Wife, which had an Argentine subplot. There were no Argentine performers in Land of Tango, the male lead was Peruvian dancer Alberto Kollman, aka Alberto de Lima. The musicians in the troupe included Colombian/Panamanian singer Alcides Briceño. Scibilia went back to his tried-and-true toolkit, reusing the plot of the comedian that lead the audience through a series of vignettes trying to get a Spanish-speaking señorita. The revue played in the Northeast, but it barely made it to Yonkers (Proctor's Theater), and never played in New York. That Summer Scibilia tried renaming the review to "Cabaret Argentino" and soon took off to the Pantages circuit in Canada and the Northwest.
The Fall 1922-Winter 1923 season for Tango in New York had been slow, there was nary a headliner other than Scandals. José Moriche and Conchita Piquer saw some action. Pilar Arcos worked on and off with Manuel Penella in the production company Teatro Lírico Español. And Montero taught dancing to some notable actors, and continued dancing at the Strand. In early May 1923 Medrano and Delirio returned to New York and appeared with Arcos and Piquer at a beneficio. Later that month they performed at a mega-show in Madison Square Garden organized by one Latin American Amusement Enterprises, which included Arcos and Montero. This show was pretentious, it was meant to be a huge Spanish "fiesta", including a parade of bullfighters in their flashy garments enacting some of the pomp of the bullfights in Spain (real bullfights were not allowed in New York). The result was a fiasco, people walked out of the show. Only the singers and dancers were spared by the reviewers, Pilar Arcos could do not wrong, she was a favorite. That Summer, Arcos and Montero traveled to Puerto Rico where they were acclaimed.
It made sense for Spanish artists to team up, there was tough competition, a lot of theaters were time-sharing their acts with silent movies. In 1923 Conchita Piquer appeared in Lee De Forest's production of "Far from Seville", one of the earliest spoken movies ever produced. While the shorts produced by De Forest were not widely distributed, it's clear that a revolution was in the making.
There were plenty of dancing studios and ballroom places in New York in 1923, a handful with Tango instruction and contests. Through Winter the Hotel Plaza had run "Tango nights" on Mondays. Ms Evelyn Hubbell ran the Castle School of Dancing where "American Tango" was taught on 58th Street near Lexington Avenue. And the Tango Gardens ballroom opened in April on 14th Street near Union Square. It advertised positions for "young ladies to act as dancing partners", earning an average of 30 dollars a week.
1. The newspaper La Prensa estimated that the Spanish-speaking population in New York was close to 80 thousand in 1925, quite a jump from the 30 thousand reported by the Times in March 1924. These numbers should be used with caution.
1. Alicia Cruzado
1. The Tango in the United States: A History by Carlos González Groppa
2. Michael Bernal:The Golden Age of the Spanish Dance
3. The website Flamencas por Derecho by Ángeles Cruzado Rodríguez
To my friends Edmundo and Pia