Francisco Spaventa

Real name: Spaventa, Francisco
Nicknames: Pancho
Singer and actor
(25 October 1896 - 13 July 1951)
Place of birth:
Las Rosas (Santa Fe) Argentina
Néstor Pinsón

e was born in the city of Las Rosas, in the province of Santa Fe. His remains are at the SADAIC pantheon in the Cemetery of La Chacarita in the city of Buenos Aires.

His show business career in Buenos Aires was scarcely noticed, he occasionally had the chance of appearing onstage to sing a song in some musicals.

Quite adventurous, with a firm temper and sure about his things, Francisco traveled to Spain in 1922 with the theater company led by the beautiful actress Catalina Bárcena who deserves a short summary of her story. She was born in Cienfuegos (Cuba) when it was still a Spanish colony and died in Madrid at age ninety. This lady toured throughout the world carrying her shows and was starred in the movies in her country and in Buenos Aires in the early forties. She was starred in: Los hombres las prefieren viudas and Canción de cuna, among others.

With Catalina, Francisco began playing the fines de fiesta at the end of each show. Thereafter the singer soon knew keenly how to place himself by discovering the eagerness of people to get acquainted with live shows of Argentine tango.

He started at the Teatro de la Comedia in Madrid and, later, at the Principal Teatro in Barcelona, besides the so many other venues that required him in other regions of the peninsula. He also appeared at the luxurious Hotel Ritz. The critics of the show business milieu began to pay attention to him.

He was one of the early male professional singers of variety shows that sang in Spanish. The famous Imperio Argentina recalled his appearances when he used to sing «always wearing a spotless tuxedo». His style was refined and certainly aristocratic with a swinging beat. His voice was languid and faint.

He used to introduce humorous stories in his performances and because of that Francisco Canaro said he distorted the features of the Buenos Aires song; but the stories he used to tell were said with a flair. The Spaniards were more affectionate than Pirincho and, as there was no other singer for a comparison, they were very enthusiastic about Spaventa who was acclaimed by audiences and critics as well: «He awakened in our hearts the heartbreaking sweetness of tango.» and he was also regarded as: «a lyrical sentimental pierrot».

Enrique Cadícamo tells us in his book that, due to a voyage to Spain, accompanying the pianist Luis Visca —that at that time was suffering because of an unrequited love—, when they were about to depart he heard guitars and voices singing a plaintive tango as farewell for the relatives and friends that remained on land. It was a piece of the sad kind that made Visca run to lock himself in his cabin. The scene was in charge of the musicians and singers that were part of the passengers and, among them, there were some names that were hired by Spaventa from Barcelona to join a group that would accompany him in his appearances. In it were his brother Carlos —also singer—, Ángel Maffia, Pedro’s brother and another bandoneon player that he did not remember his name; the singer Luis Scalon, a guitarist named Morales and another more. When they arrived at the port, Carlos Spaventa introduced them to his brother who was still known in the milieu but not as before.

Francisco was noted for his humor and self-criticism to such an extent that by that time a statement of his was picked up: «Gardel is to blame for this because I was one of the kings of tango but in 1925 he came to Spain and showed the Spaniards how tango is really sung, then all the bad actors we were had to flee from Spain for good». Furthermore, as if that were not enough, the Irusta, Fugazot, Demare trio had arrived in Spain and appeared to great acclaim, ratifying what Gardel had left.

Spaventa put together the Orquesta Buenos Aires but now certain opinions in the media were changing. For example: «Spaventa is a comic actor and tango singer but some people wisely say that he is more in the cuplé genre because his voice has scarce tango connotation». However, critics recognized what he had represented: «…the pale boy, with his air of ecstasy and his mellow, insinuating voice became a representative fellow, a sort of symbol».

Finally he appeared in France and in other European countries and toured South America, with great acclaim in Colombia where his rendition of the tango “Expiación” written by Jorge M. Dada was a boom. Also in France he was successful with his brother Carlos, teaming up as a duo or as soloists, along with Luis Scalon and the above mentioned guitarist Morales.

He made a large number of recordings in Spain between 1928 and 1929, some of those numbers are: “Bandoneón arrabalero”, “Comandante Franco” (by Spaventa), “Aurora del peregrino” (by Spaventa and Quintero), “Ya era tarde” (by Ibáñez, Spaventa and Quintero), “Lamento” (by the Quintero brothers), “Sacate la caretita”, “Mocosita”, “Te arrepentirás”, (by Nieto, Albelda and Barrull), “Silenciosamente” (waltz by Vicente Sipulla and Enrique Carrera Sotelo), “Cicatrices”, “Buenos Aires”, “Celosa”, “Pingo mío”, “El prisionero” (by Enrique Delfino and Manuel Romero), “No le digas que la quiero”, “Araca corazón”, “Julián”, “Trago amargo”, “Tus besos fueron míos”, and a lot of other numbers.

Unknown in his own country, he is another character that was unable to be a prophet in his own land.

Sources: El tango en España by Juan Manuel Peña. Mis memorias by Enrique Cadícamo. Caras y caretas magazine No.1500, 1925 and several discographies.