Celia Deza

Real name: Deza, Celia
Singer and actress
(n/d - n/d)
Place of birth:
Santander (Cantabria) Spain
Ubaldo Tuqui Rodríguez

t is strange that there is not a complete biography of Celia Deza, regarded in Barcelona in the late 20’s as «The Queen of Variety Shows». She was loved either by the public or by theater critics, paper men and intellectuals.

She was known as: La Raquel Moderna, La maga del canto criollo, La reina de los tangos argentinos, La reina del cuplé, La reina de los varietés, La emperatriz de los tangos argentinos.

Celia meant well-sung tango and cuplé, however, save for some article written by Javier Barreiro or some short reference on books about tango in Spain, there is no information about her, when she was one of the most important female tango singers in Spain and who was known as «The best interpreter of Argentine airs».

Her family was connected to theatrical art; her sister, Mary Deza was an wacky dancer and appeared alongside Celia at variety shows. She stood out as lead dancer years later. And Julita Deza, her youngest sister, also dancer, was member of the corps de ballet of the Teatro Romea.

Her debut as cuplé singer took place at the Teatro Maravillas on January 27, 1923 along with great singers like Carmen Garrido, Raquel Meller and Ramper according to the journal La Correspondencia de España. That year she also appeared at the Teatro Price and at the Teatro Romea.

The papers of that time used to say about her: «Celia Deza succeeded from the start, because she has quite a pretty voice and knows how to enhance everything she sings. In “Novios y maridos” by Romero and “El muñeco de Rosina”, by Yust, she brings forth two true artistic creations...» «The great star of song, the true revelation in the art of cuplé, Celia Deza».

After 1925 she widens her repertoire and begins to sing Argentine songs and tangos. El Imparcial journal said about her appearance at the Teatro Maravillas: «... Celia Deza, the one of the Argentine songs, rendered in an admirable way». Also that year she appeared on Radio Ibérica singing “Tuna escolar”, by Agüero and Novacasa, “Por qué te quiero”, by Arturo Cuyás de la Vega and Manuel Bertrán Reyna, “Los rivales”, by Agüero and Novacasa, “Pavasos”, by Bolaños and Prieto, and “Potro lindo”, by Agüero and Gravina.

In 1926 she appeared with the company Revistas Hispanis Maravillas Girls which staged Camaleon espectacle, in which Celia Deza sang Argentine tangos tastefully.

She was on the front page of the El Tango De Moda magazine on several occasions, in which we can see Celia impersonating different Argentine gauchos. The photos show us that she paid great attention to her clothing and her image. We can see her with hat, neckerchief, waistcoat, chiripá, bombachas (baggy trousers) and boots with spurs, rebenque (short whip), poncho, short hair and a feminine face with a painstaking care. Journals said about her figure: «She sings tangos and dresses with great style» or «The luxury and precision of the clothing with which Celia Deza carries out her creations enhances her work as well as the supreme quality of her performance».

In the El País journal, of Lleida, on October 24, 1927, in the Ráfagas column there is an article signed by the journalist T. Renán (Ramón Xuriguerra) in which he defines Celia as a cupletista. He speaks about her as a very special woman: «Her eyes, her voice, her art. She plays with these three factors and wins». The journalist questions her shift towards tango because it is loaded with lunfardo terms and vulgar vocabulary which do not depict what she is. He rescues the value of her completely feminine figure, her beauty and her natural charm. She sang a song that cast a spell on Ramón, it was entitled “Por qué te quiero”, by Cuyás and Bertrán, its lines said: «You ask me why I love you, don’t you know I’m a woman?...»

Celia had a unique personality that delighted people, she was pleasant, sang very well and gladly played the encores that audiences asked her. She was a woman who was very close to the feelings of the Spaniards, supportive, always contributing to noble causes. She was a variety show artist and was very proud of that, a genre to which she was always loyal. She sang to much acclaim in movie theaters performing live shows in the intermissions before or after the movies.

She was introduced as cantatriz, a term I had never heard and which meaning is «Woman who is professionally devoted to sing songs».

She never stopped working. She appeared alongside great comic actors like Alady, Xalma and Ramper. In 1932 she was regarded as the «vedette of song», sharing the bill with Carmelita Aubert. Either as cupletista or as tango singer, she inspired several writers and paper men to take her into account when writing their memoirs or their poems.

Álvaro Retana used to comment that new tangos and figures appeared but Celia was always «up», always in renewal, never letting herself being disheartened either by competitors or the passing of time and even she found herself winner when she was compared with elements coming from the Pampas.

In March 1932 Celia appeared in the play Las secuestradoras along with Laura Pinillos, Nena Rubens and Sara Fenor at the Teatro Cómico of Barcelona. In 1939 she sang at the Teatro Barcelona in Espectáculo CIFESA sharing the bill with Miguel de Molina. In 1951 she was in the show ¡Tiempos felices! at the Copacabana alongside Alonso Rivero and his orchestra and the Orquesta Demón. In 1953 Celia appeared at the show Folies Chez Demón, afternoon and evening performances along with Michele Richard, Aida and Elena Maya and the Les Trejov ballet.

She did not cut many records. I have found only four tracks: the cuplé “Segadora”, by D. Villan and V. Quirós, and the tango “Recuerdo [c]”, by Novacasa, both pieces were accompanied by the pianist Jesús Caballero for the Regal label in 1931; the song “La rumba del Camagüey”, from the play Las secuestradoras, Odeon label in 1931 and the pericón “Caballito volador”, by Sixto Cantabrana Ruiz and José Legaza with the Orquesta Típica Lizcano, Odeon label in 1942.

Celia’s voice was very pleasant. In the cuplé “Segadora” and the Spanish tango “Recuerdo [c]”, recorded at the beginning of her career, there is a noticeable preference towards the operatic genre, she has great power and good technique, and conveys emotion and passion for what she sings. In “Caballito volador” she has a good phrasing, a clear diction and much charm. She evidences that she is able to sing together with other people.

In June 1951 she appeared in the movie La forastera directed by Antonio Román and starring Elena Barrios, Conrado San Martín and Enrique Guitart, with music by Ramón Ferrés and premiered at the Cine Rex of Madrid on March 3, 1952.

After tracking down in different Spanish journals I found that the last appearance of Celia Deza at a show was at the Atelier Club, an elegant night club in Barcelona, on June 1, 1955. She daily appeared in the afternoons and evenings with the Sandy Trio, alternating with Tete Montoliú and José Puig. La Vanguardia journal states that her last appearance on radio was on Radio Barcelona on December 21, 1955 at 12:25: «Appearance of the estilista Celia Deza».

«La Deza» did not commit to record Argentine tangos, so we are unable to ponder her renditions, but Álvaro Retana in his book about variety shows gives us a valuable testimony by those who heard her live, in which he says: «Some survivors of that time exclaim, remembering Celia Deza: How well that girl used to sing Argentine tangos!»