Friday, January 20, 2012

On the Air: El Cumbanchero

Desi Arnaz: El Cumbanchero

[purchase studio version]

I Love Lucy was the first live television sitcom to be shot on film and to make use of three-camera production techniques. It's also perpetually rerun (even now, 60 years after it debuted, six times per day on the Hallmark Channel). Lucy's popularity is due in no small part to its evergreen comedy. But, its reputation as one of the most profitable TV shows ever is testament to the business acumen of the show's producer and co-star, Desi Arnaz. Desi may have played second banana to Lucille Ball on TV, but he ran the show -- literally. (Arnaz's business chops were likely genetic: His grandfather was a co-founder of Bicardi Rum.)

Arnaz achieved his first taste of fame in the 1930s as a guitarist in Xavier Cugat's orchestra. After WWII, he struck out on his own, with a band made up of Cugat castoffs, most of whom couldn't play the tropical music Arnaz favored. As a result, his orchestra offered an eclectic mix of styles, embellished by Arnaz's energetic singing and playing.

"Babalu" was Arnaz's best known song, but "El Cumbanchero" is his most exciting. Arnaz first recorded "El Cumbanchero" in the 1940s, and it appeared on I Love Lucy a couple of times, most raucously in an episode where Lucy and Ricky host a hoedown in their apartment, trying to get the Mertzes to tear up their apartment lease. This version is taken from a 1951 CBS radio special, Your Tropical Trip.

"El Cumbanchero" was written by Rafael Hernández, the leading composer of Puerto Rican music. That Arnaz's Lucy renditions make this the best-known Hernández composition in the continental United States speaks to the enduring impact of Lucy and the extra boost music receives when performed on prime-time TV.

blog comments powered by Disqus