Musicians

José María Aguilar

Guitarist, singer and composer
(May 3, 1891 - December 21, 1951)
Nickname: Indio

More Aguilar:
Ae was born in Montevideo, on 19 de Abril Street. His parents were Francisco Aguilar and Cecilia Porrás Zoca.

When he was a kid, backed by General Máximo Tajes, he entered the Instituto Verdi to study music together with his brother Francisco Mauro. One of his teachers was Escobar that lived on Ciudadela Street between Maldonado and Canelones.

Some years later, José y Francisco Aguilar, accompanied by his father, toured Uruguay. Many years later, Aguilar recalled: «Playing guitar and singing, I was around the oriental places. At Paso Molino he was at the folk evening reunions among payada masters and ad lib singers». The famous Gabino Ezeiza prepared some lines for him to sing.

When Francisco married he gave up touring and José continued with his father until the latter died. He went on alone and when he arrived at Artigas, helped by his godfather, Major José María Castro, chief of police of that town, he crossed to Brazil, with great difficulties, and toured Rio Grande do Sul. He returned to Montevideo when he was a grown-up boy, and came back to his mother’s home.

In February 1981, Mario Pardo told us that, contrarily to what is said about the relationship of  Aguilar with Valentín Echenique, the encounter took place at a café of Montevideo. Echenique then invited him to carry out rural works in his country ranch, a few miles from Mercedes, by 1912. Singing, guitar playing and horse breaking were his entertaining there.

Years later, Mario Pardo invited him to appear in Buenos Aires. The Pardo-Aguilar duo made its debut at the Empire theater on Corrientes Street. Aguilar admired his partner very much. He used to say of him: «for me, he’s the best guitarist in the world in his style». They cut some records together in 1922 and after that they split up.

Aguilar taught guitar to distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Argentine society. He even reached a number of seventy students. He backed Ignacio Corsini in his early discs for Odeon and soon —1923— was hired by Victor as soloist and lead accompanist of the singers of that time that recorded in that label. He recorded his first tangos: “Ida y vuelta”, “El abrojal” and “El gran técnico” in that recording company. Maestro Miguel Llobet congratulated him after hearing him play the fox-trot “Nerón” in the Breyer house of Buenos Aires.

José Aguilar was by that time a solo player of classical pieces, among them “Musical Moment” (Schubert), “Miserere” from “Il trovatore” (Verdi) and “Excerpts from the Manuscripts” (De Falla). The latter piece was recorded. At this point it is worthwhile to highlight that Aguilar was a guitarist with a solid musical knowledge.

Either as soloist or as accompanist, José Aguilar was a frequent visitor to the recording studios. In 1924 he appeared at the Teatro Porteño alongside the duo formed by the singers Atilio Monsalve Copello (El chilenito) and Fernando Nunziata with the guitarist Rafael Iriarte. In March 1924 he traveled to Montevideo and appeared for a season as member of the group “Los incógnitos”, a string quartet and vocals with Luis Viappiana, Carlos Bértola, Ítalo Goyeche to whom his then young brother Froilán was added.

By that time he married a lady of the society of  Trinidad, miss María Berois. She was an important collaborator with her husband in the lyrics of “Trenzas negras”, “Añoranzas” and “Milonguera”, among others. This information was corroborated by Froilán Aguilar who considered María was an excellent poetess.

On their comeback to Buenos Aires, José and Froilán Aguilar appeared at the Empire and Maipo theaters accompanying Rosita Quiroga and Rosita Del Carril. They are featured in recordings along with Ignacio Corsini. Soon Froilán returned to Montevideo, while José continued as accompanist, now together with Enrique Maciel and Rosendo Pesoa. The latter was one of his outstanding alumnus.

In the mid- 1928 an important event in the Aguilar’s career took place. According to Richard Russo, a Uruguayan journalist and author of the tango “Tango, te cambiaron la pinta”, in an interview we made him he told us that Aguilar was hired by Carlos Gardel because the latter was worried about his poor accompaniment. He made his debut on record with the singer in three numbers cut on the same day: “La hija de Japonesita”, “Chorra” and “Manos brujas”. Gardel and his guitarists traveled to Europe and appeared in Paris to great acclaim. The backing trio lined up by José Ricardo, Guillermo Barbieri and José Aguilar as well played guitar solos.

Aguilar used his thumb with a plectrum to obtain a brilliant and outstanding sound. In fact, when he was a kid in an “arm-wrestling” competition with a boy named Denis —according to his brother Froilán’s report— he broke his finger, what later caused him trouble in his guitar work.

By then, after his comeback from Europe he began to be known as José María Aguilar, a name that would identify him forever.

As José Ricardo stayed in Paris because he had split with Gardel, the accompanists of the great singer would be only two until March 1930 when Domingo Riverol joined them. Aguilar was starred in Gardel’s short films directed by Eduardo Morera. Soon thereafter, due to an argument, he split with the singer.

He never stopped working. He had gigs with Teófilo Ibáñez, the Gómez-Vila duo, Armando Barbé, Juan Patti (Uruguayan singer) and Adhelma Falcón. In this latter case, with Barbieri and Riverol. This is an  incomplete list that encompasses the period 1931/34.

In the late 1934 from the United States Carlos Gardel requested a guitar trio, so Aguilar together with Barbieri and Riverol traveled. He made the tour that was interrupted by the tragedy of  Medellín. In it the guitar solos and the accompaniment to Carlos Gardel are documented.

The awful accident did not kill Aguilar but caused him a great suffering that left him physically disfigured and, what was worse, his hands were definitively unable to play guitar again. His wife María went to Colombia to bring him back to Buenos Aires in January 1936. He still had courage and strength to have guitar students and patronize different singers to only a relative success. The complete, quite personal and outstanding artist had accomplished his cycle, closing it on June 24, 1935.

In the mid- December 1951, in front of the Plaza Pueyrredón (Flores) of Buenos Aires, while trying to stop a taxi cab coming along the other side of the street, a car rolled him down, and broke his leg. In a bed of the Hospital Álvarez he unexpectedly died of a lung edema on December 21, 1951.

His very important output as author includes around seventy titles of different genres. Among the  tangos, not mentioned in this sketch, we name some, such as: “Tengo miedo” and “Cuando me entrés a fallar”; “Flor campera” with Juan Pedro López and “Al mundo le falta un tornillo”. Waltzes with beautiful melodies, for example: “Manuelita” with José Macías Jr.; “Aromas del Cairo”; “Mala suerte” and “Cuando miran tus ojos”, without forgetting some examples of folk music like the zambaLas madreselvas” and the estilo “Ofrenda gaucha”, among his most popular songs.

We place him as the most distinguished figure of his generation. A singer in his beginnings, he was a great guitarist and an excellent composer. He was a true character of our popular music.

Originally published in the book "Ochenta notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos", Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Under the auspices of the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.