Oscar Rorra

Real name: Rorra, Oscar
Nicknames: Caruso Negro
(15 August 1890 - 6 April 1950)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
Horacio Loriente

e was born on Isla de Flores Street and Cuareim (Montevideo), a few yards from where now the monument to commemorate Carlos Gardel is placed.

He was an errand boy of a famous shop, today defunct. Don Oscar D'Oliveira, the owner heard him sing and, very impressed by his capabilities, paid him lessons at a conservatory, but Rorra quite soon quit his studies. Don Donato Pascale, knowing his virtues, (he was the owner of the Café Italiano located on 18 de Julio and Río Branco) hired him to sing and paid him one peso a night.

In August 1915 the famous tenor Enrico Caruso was appearing at the Solís and Urquiza theaters. At the latter he sang the opera Pagliacci. Pascale offered Rorra fifty cents more if he would sing the operatic arias. After he accepted the offer he was known as the Caruso Negro (Black Caruso), we may add the Uruguayan because there was already another North American tenor known by that sobriquet and whose name was Roland Hayes.

His popularity was growing and that was the time of the rivalry of two great costumed black gangs: Los Nyanzas and Los Guerreros del Sur (The Southern Warriors). Oscar Rorra joined the latter ones. At that carnival celebration the Town Hall had to award the first prize to both groups.

Thereafter, for a short time Oscar Rorra devoted to boxing and, in April 1918, he appeared as soloist at the cinema theaters Justicia (Justicia and Pagola) and Rodó (Joaquín Requena and Charrúa). By the end of that year he appeared along with Luis Viapiana with whom he shared the bill for a time. In the summer seasons he was the main attraction at the famous variety shows of Parque Rodó.

He traveled to Buenos Aires in 1923. He sang the tangos of the contest sponsored by the Tango cigarettes and appeared at several cinema theaters of the Argentine capital along with the orchestra led by the pianist Alfonso Lacueva. The awards were for “El ramito”, “Sobre el pucho”, “La mentirosa” and there was a special mention for “Midinette porteña”. The sheet music of the one which got the first prize said: «Sung to great acclaim by the successful melodist Caruso Negro», and on the corner of it the photo of the singer was placed.

He resumed his show business activity in Montevideo and, one of his friends, the excellent journalist Raúl Durante recalls his most successful interpretations, among them, “La garçonniere”, “La mina del Ford” and “Callecita de mi barrio”.

In March 1925, he went to Buenos Aires again with the impresario León Angulo to sign several contracts, among them the recording of various discs. He commited to record six numbers: “Un real al 69” and “Triste regreso” with the accompaniment of the orchestra fronted by Antonio Scatasso that also played at the Teatro Apolo while the other pieces: “Recuerdos de arrabal”, “Cruel mujer”, “Modistita” and “Amor de Pierrot” do not mention the name of the leader of the group. As refrain singer of the, then, brand-new jazz band of Adolfo Carabelli, he made popular the maxixas “Monerías” and “Noé Noé”.

Those records, cut in the old acoustic system, however allow us to ponder the outstanding vocal gifts of Rorra. A tenor-like voice with perfect intonation, good taste, highly praised by the audiences of that time.

His bohemian lifestyle drove him to leave his beloved Barrio Sur, his people, his friends. He traveled to Europe where he appeared in Belgium, Barcelona (1932), Madrid and La Coruña (1933), Paris (1936-1937) and made some tours of Africa. His songbook covered, practically, all the genres, but, he especially stood out in the melodic numbers in vogue and the repertoire of his race.

On his comeback from France, he returned to Montevideo on the steamship Belle Isle, after an absence of nearly fourteen years out of his country. In 1938 the radio station CX42 —then called Tribuna Sonora— hired him for a season in which he had to perform mainly Cuban songs. Embittered by the lack of job and also by the oblivion due to his long absence, he settled in Buenos Aires and traveled to Chile to appear at the Teatro Balmaceda with a sixteen-piece orchestra conducted by Roberto Retes with the addition of small drums. On his comeback to Argentina, he joined the Asociación Argentina de Artistas Circenses (Argentine Association of Circus Artists) as chansonnier. Then he made appearances on his long tours of the Argentine interior.

In an article published in a journal, Raúl Durante said goodbye to him as follows: «The old boys now have no singer: Caruso Negro died. He filled an epoch on the stages of the Parque. The hits he achieved from 1924 to 1925 have never been surpassed». And the note came to an end, full of nostalgia, almost with anguish: «The last time he was with us, twenty days ago, after he said goodbye I stayed for a while watching him. I saw him go away along Pampa Street with that little lazy pace with which on the past happy afternoons he used to cross by the corner of Isla de Flores and Cuareim. With that pace that he never changed for a moment when he, blessed with the people’s applause and his good looking figure, used to walk along the streets of Spain and France».