Alberto Castillo

Real name: De Lucca, Alberto Salvador
Nicknames: Riobal
Singer, actor, composer and lyricist
(7 December 1914 - 23 July 2002)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Roberto Selles

he very peculiar style of Alberto Castillo maybe has something to do with the mocking (humorous) grace of outskirts origin of Rosita Quiroga, Sofía Bozán or Tita Merello. But in no way these are influences; neither have they similarity among them nor Castillo resembles them. Simply, we could group them —and add them to the subsequent Elba Berón— because they are united by a common air, the same unpolished cadence.

However, when Castillo faces deep themes, the tenderness he conveys is striking. Definitively, he is a «voice that does not sound like any other's voice», as the unforgettable Julián Centeya wisely said. Nor his style is like anyone's; when he himself said that his peculiar phrasing was what the dancers needed —«people moved according to the nuances of my voice»—, He said to himself: «Here's the thing!» (something that was needed, that is eagerly awaited), and he never deviated from that way of singing, of that natural style of tango, to which a detail of great importance must be added: his perfect intonation.

Alberto Salvador De Lucca —this is his true name— was born in the neighborhood of Floresta, in the western area of the city of Buenos Aires. He was the fifth child of a couple of Italian immigrants:Salvador De Lucca and Lucía Di Paola.

Since early childhood he showed a natural inclination towards music; he had violin lessons and sang in any place where he had the chance. On a certain night —he was already 15 years old—, he was singing for the barra (group of friends) —in which he was the youngest and the most admired— when the guitarist Armando Neira heard him and suggested including him in his outfit. This was the professional debut of Alberto De Lucca, under the nickname of Alberto Dual, which he alternated with that of Carlos Duval. He later sang with the orchestras of Julio De Caro (1934), Augusto Berto (1935) and Mariano Rodas (1937).

His nicknames protected him from his father's discipline. When he sang on Radio París, with the Rodas Orchestra, don Salvador, his father, commented before the wireless: «He sings very well; he has a voice like Albertito's».

In 1938, he split with the orchestra and devoted completely to his medicine studies. But tango was still under his skin and a year before graduation he was member of the Typical Orchestra Los Indios, which was led by the dentist-pianist Ricardo Tanturi.

On January 8, 1941, Tanturi's first record with his vocalist Alberto Castillo appeared —he had just adopted his definitive nickname, suggested by a radio man, Pablo Osvaldo Valle—, the waltz “Recuerdo”, by Alfredo Pelaia, which was a boom in record sales. A year later, he graduated as gynecologist and placed his consulting room at his parents' house.

So in the afternoons, doctor Alberto Salvador De Lucca left his consulting room for ladies and ran to the radio to turn into the singer Alberto Castillo. There were complications when in the waiting room of his consulting room there was no more space for so many women, mostly, young. There was an explanation: the singer had an incredible appeal on the weaker sex and as news had spread that he was a gynecologist, those who found out where his consulting room was, run to be treated by him. Castillo remembered the story which revealed the never ending flow of ladies into his consulting room: «Are you ready, madam?», he asked to a patient that was undressing behind a folding screen, and she answered not at all embarrassed: «I am, doctor. And you?»

«Those insinuations did not please much», he confessed, and finally he gave up the medical profession to fully devote himself to singing.

On June 6,1945 he married Ofelia Oneto, and they had three children: Alberto Jorge (gynecologist and obstetrician), Viviana Ofelia (veterinarian and agronomic engineer) and Gustavo Alberto (plastic surgeon). By then, Castillo already was an authentic popular idol.

His way of moving on the stage, his way of handling the microphone and bouncing it to and fro, his right hand close to his mouth like street vendor, his handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket, his shirt collar unbuttoned and the necktie, loose. All was unprecedented, everything produced sensation, even his improvised boxing fights when he sang «¡Qué saben los pitucos!» (from the tango “Así se baila el tango”, by Elías Randal and Marvil) and some pituco (fashionable rich boy) considered himself alluded.

To that we add his voice and his style so peculiar and we shall find the explanation why when, in 1944, he sang at the Teatro Alvear, the police had to interrupt the traffic of Corrientes street, something that was not seen since the times of the female bandoneonist Paquita Bernardo at the Café Domínguez.

These were his beginnings as soloist, after splitting with Tanturi somewhere in 1943. A little bit later, he included candombe in his repertory, and included black dancers in his shows. The first was “Charol” (by Osvaldo Sosa Cordero), which became a boom, either in Buenos Aires or in Montevideo, what made him go on including numbers with that rhythm: “Siga el baile” (by Carlos Warren and Edgardo Donato), “Baile de los morenos”, “El cachivachero” and, among others, “Candonga”, written by him. By the way, Castillo is also lyricist; he wrote, besides, the tangos “Yo soy de la vieja ola”, “Muchachos, escuchen”, “Cucusita”, “Así canta Buenos Aires”, “Un regalo del cielo”, “A Chirolita”, “¡Dónde me quieren llevar!”, “Castañuelas” and “Cada día canta más”; and the marches “La perinola” and “Año nuevo”.

Movies made him an actor extremely natural, who made his debut in 1946 with Adiós pampa mía, to continue with El tango vuelve a París (1948, accompanied by Aníbal Troilo), Un tropezón cualquiera da en la vida (1949, with Virginia Luque), Alma de bohemio (1949), La barra de la esquina (1950), Buenos Aires, mi tierra querida (1951), Por cuatro días locos (1953), Ritmo, amor y picardía, Música, alegría y amor, Luces de candilejas (1955, 1956 and 1958 respectively, both three with the extraordinary rhumba dancer Amelita Vargas) and Nubes de humo (1959).

His latest success was in 1993, when he recorded “Siga el baile” with Los Auténticos Decadentes and he managed to conquer the youth of the end of the century, such as he had done in the 40s. His voice keeps on being one of the most identified with our city song and, it surely, will be forever.

Originally published in the fascicle 28 of the collection Tango Nuestro issued by Diario Popular.