For those who briefly recognize his voice, Miguelito Valdés was hardly a reference in Cuban music. For posterity, for the tasters of Cuban music, on the other hand, he is one of the most brilliant figures in the history of son, rumba, bolero, Afro song … His influence was decisive on Benny Moré, Cascarita , Tito Rodríguez and many others. His unrestricted approach to melody, harmony and rhythm, as well as his percussive vocal technique, continue to be appreciated as his voice goes round and round in players spreading the flavor, enthusiasm and energy that gave him a wide advantage on any other figure in its genre and language.
In the centenary of his birth, today we remember Miguelito Valdés for his absolute and sincere dedication in stages, for his influence, for his recordings and films, because he was unique … the myth keeps growing.
To Bethlehem it is now
As if in the old Cuba the names were missing, he was baptized with five names: Miguel Ángel Eugenio Lázaro Zacarías Izquierdo Valdés and Hernández, and registered as born on September 6, 1912 – some authors claim that his birth occurred in 1910 and others in 1916- in a humble house in the Callejón de Velazco, located in Calle Casting between Picota and San Isidro, in the populous Belén neighborhood, in the heart of Old Havana. His father Emilio, born in Spain, arrived in Cuba with the antecedent of having been Colonel of the Imperial Navy. His mother, Norberta América Valdés Torres, came from Yucatan, Mexico, with fine Mayan features. As is often believed, his surname is not related to the legendary House of Charity and Maternity of Havana, descendants of some Cuban musicians surnamed Valdés.
The Casa de Beneficencia began in 1705, then called “Casa Cuna”, under the auspices of the bishop of the Havana diocese, Fray Jerónimo Valdés, who not only gave the work its goods and enthusiasm, but also baptized and gave its name to all the disinherited and abandoned children who arrived as innocent victims of the unjust colonial society to the House. Fray Valdés, in turn, was a noted musician who taught his proteges to play different musical instruments.
Miguelito was raised only by his mother who lived on public charity, along with five brothers and a sister, in the Aurora Passage of the Havana neighborhood of Key West, poor neighborhood cradle of rumberos and soneros. Near his house was the solar Africa, along with his brother Oliverio participated as soon as “touches of saint” and “rumbas de cajón” were organized and there he met Chano Pozo and they became friends and they sang and played rumbas. There, his knowledge and mastery of the ancestral Afro-Cuban songs and rhythms was born.
He studied his first years at the Emiliano Zapata School. He arrived until the sixth grade, there were no resources to continue them. Miguelito’s childhood was, like so many other poor children, a constant struggle for survival that included different jobs: at age eleven he worked as an assistant in a mechanics workshop, located in Zanja between Castillejo and Aramburu, repairing bodies. In 1926 he tried to make a living as a boxer and, after a promising 23-fight welterweight division career, he even won an amateur championship, retired to join, in 1927, the Sexteto Habanero Juvenil where he played three, guitar, double bass, maracas and sang. The son was fashionable. His idol at that time was the Mexican singer José Mojica, a tenor very famous for those years in Cuba.