Juan Arvizu

Real name: Arvizu Santelices, Juan Nepomuceno
Nicknames: El Tenor de la Voz de Seda
(22 May 1900 - 19 November 1985)
Place of birth:
Querétaro Mexico
Néstor Pinsón

olero as a genre began in the late days of the nineteenth century. It is said that in 1911 a Cuban tailor named Pepe Sánchez, an amateur musician, composed “Tristezas”, later known as “Me entristeces mujer” or “Un beso”. There are no coincidences among the historians about the title but this would be the first bolero.

Tango and bolero have always had a close relationship either by the way they were born or because of their development. It is not an exaggeration to say that they, somehow, have collaborated with each other. There are a large number of bolero singers that included tangos in their songbooks. Likewise, tango authors and composers had created romantic numbers and, even, conducted aggregations that backed up the appearances and recordings of many of its artists.

Among the legendary voices of bolero, Juan Arvizu deserves a space of his own due to his long connection with our country and with tango. He arrived in Buenos Aires hired for the opening of LR1 Radio El Mundo which took place on November 29, 1935. His contract was for a month and a half but it was extended due to the wide public acclaim to such an extent that he settled here. He stayed for eighteen years in Argentina which became the point of departure for his numerous tours abroad.

In his huge repertoire (the connoisseurs of the subject estimate that his recordings add up to around two thousand) there are quite a number of tangos and connected airs like waltzes and milongas. Of course, in most of them, because of his particularly personal style, they have a bolero-like flavor.

Some of the titles are: “Prohibido”, “Pecado”, “Verdemar”, “Plegaria”, “Si dejaras de quererme”, “Qué fácil es decir”, “Señor juez”, “Arrepentimiento, “Salud dinero y amor”, “Nuestra casita”, “La cumparsita”, “Mi Buenos Aires querido”, “Madreselva”, “Caminito”, “Una canción”, “Sinceramente”, “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, “Lágrimas de sangre”, “No cantes ese tango”, “Nido gaucho”, “Tengo mil novias”, “Cada vez que me recuerdes”, “Mi único amor”.

He was born in Querétaro, Mexico, where he lived helping his father in his job as radio telegraphist. When he was a young kid he was encouraged by his mother to study vocal training, music reading and harmony and he as well used to sing in a children’s choral society.

At age 22 he settled in the Federal District and there he went on with his studies with José Pierson, singer and reciter —later he would become teacher and director of opera companies—. The latter tutored famous artists of the popular song genre like Jorge Negrete, José Mojica, Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, Pedro Vargas, Juan Pulido, among others.

Two years later his debut at the Teatro Esperanza Iris took place with an operatic play entitled La Sonámbula. His inborn qualities, his strong tenor range –that he knew how to handle, when famous, in a great number of romantic pieces- attracted the attention of other directors and the audience. Soon his gifts were being recognized and, on many occasions, there were standing ovations after his performances.

Due to his success the recording industry was interested in him. The first label was Brunswick in which he made his debut in 1928 with the recording of “Varita de nardo” composed by Joaquín Pardavé. Later he recorded for Victor which included him in its cast. Thereafter, he recorded for other record companies until he became one of the singers with the largest number of discs recorded in the history of Latin American music.

In 1930 he was summoned for the opening of a radio station of his country, Radio XEW and in 1942 he traveled to the United States of America for the same reason, this time for the Network of the Americas of the Columbia Broadcasting. In Mexico and in Cuba he appeared in several films with simple plots that had the sole purpose of presenting his songs.

An incredible achievement of the singer was discovering a pianist who used to play at poor cabarets and whorehouses and who, alongside him became the major figure of bolero of all Latin America. He was known as El Flaco de Oro (he had a scar from the left corner of his mouth up to his middle cheek due to a blow with a broken bottle). He was Agustín Lara.

We need not to say who Agustín Lara was and what he meant for popular music. Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest creators of the continent. But what needs to be singled out is that he began to grow up by composing and accompanying Arvizu on piano. Not only did he enrich the songbook of his friend but also he did that for the most well-known artists beyond state borders. It will suffice mentioning “Granada”, “Solamente una vez” and “María Bonita” (dedicated to María Félix whom he married in 1945).

Arvizu lived some years in Chile and also in Colombia. When he decided to return to his country he did not receive the recognition he expected. The passing of time had pushed him into the background, another generation with different tastes and dissimilar ways of living was in vogue.

In 1967 he decided to rest for a while, his life had been a permanent movement, a period of relief came after a long tour of Querétaro, his hometown.

People say that it was in Buenos Aires where he was given the sobriquet: El Tenor de la Voz de Seda.

Based on notes by Hernán Restrepo Duque and Ricardo Risetti, from their book De Corazón a Corazón, editorial Corregidor 1994.