Real name: Pérez, Carlos José
Nicknames: Charlo, Carlos Pérez de la Riestra
Singer, musician, pianist, actor and composer.
(7 July 1906 - 30 October 1990)
Place of birth:
Guatraché (La Pampa) Argentina
Julio Nudler

fter Carlos Gardel, Charlo is the most important singer in tango, although, unlike him he did not become a popular myth. He was the vocalist who recorded most, in a discographic career started in 1925 and ended in 1967. However, the main part of his recordings are concentrated in only four years, from 1928 to 1931. In most of those renditions he reaches a level comparable to Gardel's. Like him, he was responsible for establishing an emotional style though austere and without exaggerations, of perfect intonation and attentive musicianship. As composer he displayed his great melodic talent, giving birth to important pieces in tango romanza style.

He was born in the country establishment La Piedad, between railway stations Guatraché y Avestruz, in the province of La Pampa, within a wealthy family. All his lifetime he would stick to a bourgeois way of life while exhibiting a dandy appearance. He was what porteños (Buenos Aires people) called jailaife (derived from high-life), with a sophisticated classy look. His refined style produced the Charlo fashion, which comprised clothes and other implements for men.Perhaps unsatisfied with the lowliness of his surname Pérez, he added to it the pretentious de la Riestra, mistakenly attributed as a true name in biographies and reviews. In any case, he was identified by his artistic name which was adopted in 1924 for his debut on radio and which derives from Charlot (Chaplin).

His first music studies on piano and other musical instruments were at a Conservatory in Puan, a small southern town lost in the Buenos Aires plains. Later he moved to La Plata, the modern capital of the province of Buenos Aires with its well-known university, its diagonals and neoclassical official buildings, where he had his high school instruction and where he started to study law, what he soon gave up. The change of residence of his family to Buenos Aires in 1922 favored the beginning of his career as singer when he accompanied himself on piano. In quick succesion, he had his debut in 1924 on Radio Cultura, sang at the Café El Americano in the San Cristóbal neighborhood (where his almost insulting elegance was in harsh contrast with the humble social level of the parishoners, and started a career of singing actor —later he would transfer it to the cinema— in a musical at the Teatro de la Comedia (a downtown theater). On that occasion he premiered his now forgotten first tango “Pinta brava” included in the sainete of the same name.

Charlo, with a beautiful voice and classic charm was quickly engulfed by the industry that was fluttering around tango and our country music. In 1925, he recorded his first ten 78 rpm records, still with the acoustic system for the label Electra, with the guitar accompaniment of Vicente Spina and Miguel Correa. In the carnival seasons in Rosario, the second big city in Argentina, he sang with Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo orchestras, which were the two most popular at the time. He later recorded a release for RCA-Victor.

In 1928, his profuse presence on record for the label Odeon began not only with Canaro's or Francisco Lomuto's orchestras —both very popular—,but also with guitars. In his abundant discography with Canaro (more than half a thousand songs until 1931) singer and orchestra alternate protagonism. On ocassions, Charlo is but a refrain vocalist in the group (a role which consisted in singing only the second section —called chorus, bridge or refrain— of each tango, in general no more than eight stanzas). But the relationship is reversed in other cases, and Charlo as soloist is accompanied by Canaro. This happens to be the most interesting material not only because it includes the whole lyric but also because of the singer's complete commitment, while in a lot of refrains we find a very little enthusiastic Charlo. This lack of involvement is easy to understand since the refrain singer was seldom mentioned on the record label.

In his long career he was occasionally accompanied by outstanding tango stars : the guitarist Roberto Grela, the Demare-Vardaro orchestra (pianist Lucio Demare and violinist Elvino Vardaro), a trio with pianist Osvaldo Pugliese and bandoneonist Federico Scorticati, and different orchestras led by Héctor Stamponi (piano), Roberto Pansera (bandoneon) and Osvaldo Requena (piano). Among the guitarists who accompanied him in the 30s, there was one who was destined to become one of the remarkable singers of the genre: Edmundo Rivero.

Charlo's career in cinema began in 1935, precisely the same year in which Gardel died. His first film was El alma del bandoneón. One year later, he sang two tangos regarded as classics in his repertory: “Olvido” and “Yo también soñé” in the movie Puerto Nuevo. Carnaval de antaño, from 1940, is another of those films in which he was a star, but none of these movies can be considered valuable cinematographically speaking. The same applies to Charlo's career in theater.

Such as in Gardel's case, in the 30s his art was changing its local color into a more universal mood. This change —of which his melodic tango “Ave de paso”, composed in Río de Janeiro in 1935 with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, stands as a clear testimony— would help him to his success in all America, Spain and Portugal. His long tours and his periods of residence abroad diminished his presence in Argentine tango.

In his important work, as composer of rare ability to musically express human drama and romantic rapture, the following tunes stand out : with lyrics by the film maker Luis César Amadori, the tangos “Cobardía”, “Rencor” and “Tormento”; with José González Castillo, “El viejo vals”, a piece of rare perfection, unparalleled in Charlo's rendition; with José María Contursi, “Sin lágrimas”; with Cátulo Castillo, “Sin ella”. “Fueye” and the beautiful waltz “Tu pálida voz” with lyrics by Homero Manzi. And with Cadícamo, besides “Ave de paso”, three tangos of high value, but very different from each other, stand out: “Rondando tu esquina”, “Viejas alegrías” and “La barranca”.