José Muñiz

Real name: Muñiz, José
(13 March 1894 - 1964)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
José Gobello

e was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and died in Lima, Perú. He was one of the singers, maybe the first one, who brought tango to Mexico and Cuba. Bringing him back from oblivion is an act of justice.

It is known that when he was a marble cutter he settled in Buenos Aires in 1918. He possessed a beautiful baritone voice that, without quitting his job, he showcased at fairs and festivals by singing zarzuela numbers. While in one of those gigs he was discovered by the Uruguayan actor Luis Vittone who, in 1910, had formed a theater company with Segundo Pomar and, in 1919 —after having been the Carlos Mauricio Pacheco’s preferred player— he presented vaudeville shows at the Teatro Ópera in the style of Madame Rasimi.

In those shows he included Muñiz and when he put together a cast to stage sainete plays in some countries where the legendary actress Camila Quiroga had successfully appeared with comedy and drama, he summoned Muñiz together with Olinda Bozán, María Esther Podestá (Pomar’s wife who had already premiered “Milonguita (Esthercita)”), Juan Sarcione, maestro Francisco Payá and some others.

Muñiz had married Marta Poli, Manolita’s sister (who had already premiered “Mi noche triste (Lita)”). The troupe made its debut in Mexico at the Teatro Esperanza Iris on November 15, 1923. But failures of organization and political upheavals led the enterprise to the verge of collapse.

In the city of Tampico things went better and, later, in several cities of Cuba success started to be on their side. However, discouragement spread and in 1924 they all were back home. Muñiz stayed in those countries broadcasting the tangos that were released here and which her sister-in-law regularly sent him.

He came back to the Buenos Aires venues more than once and so he premiered “Tiempos viejos” in the play Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina at the Teatro Ópera on October 21, 1926 and also “Dicen que dicen” in a play by Alberto Ballesteros staged at the Teatro Fémina in 1929. Previously he had sung “La provincianita” and “Polvorín” in the Manuel Romero’s play El Gran Premio Nacional at the Politeama Argentino on June 28, 1922.

Thereafter, in 1933, he was alongside Tania and Discepolín in the premiere of Wunder Bar, a brilliant musical of German origin. But Muñiz, however, was fond of operetta. And with an operetta company in which the soprano Inés Berutti was spotlighted he went to Chile and never returned.

Little is known as from that time. Apparently, he did not cut any recording. There were some rumors that he had shot a movie in Lima. In the later days of his life he was an employee in a furniture store and in a candle factory, also in Lima.

In his case, because he was a sort of tango pioneer in Mexico and the Caribbean area, the hard revenge of time turns out completely irrational. Completely charmed by “Polvorín” —an elegy for a horse only comparable to “El Moro” which was made immortal by Carlos Gardel—, I thank Muñiz for having premiered it. When I play back Los muchachos de antes no usaban gomina and I watch Hugo Del Carril, with his good-looking slim figure, singing “Tiempos viejos” I wonder how Muñiz would have phrased it when he sang it for the first time.

When a record brings me back the voice of Julio Sosa singing “Dicen que dicen” I remember that such a unique piece (in a great number of tango pieces it is told how a lover murders his mistress; «Let’s write one in which he kills her onstage», Delfino said to Ballesteros) was premiered by another Uruguayan who was also betrayed by fame but in a less tragic way.