Roberto Quiroga

Real name: Martins, Manuel
Nicknames: Carlos Martins y Carlos Rainer
Singer and guitaris
(16 January 1911 - 1 February 1965)
Place of birth:
Avellaneda (Buenos Aires) Argentina
José Pedro Aresi

s soon as we go further in the beginnings of the life of the one who, with the passing of time, would become The People’s Singer we find differences about his birthplace and his Christian name.

The different opinions are for Avellaneda in the province of Buenos Aires, and the neighborhood of Barracas in the Federal capital. Anyhow, the geographic difference would not be great, if we take into account that Avellaneda was previously know as Barracas al Sur, and both are separated only by the Riachuelo (small river).

As for his family name, there is also controversy. His parents were Manuel Martins and Carolina Expósito. Even though the most widely accepted name is Manuel Martins, the authors Raúl Outeda and Roberto Cassinelli mention it as Carlos Martins, and Horacio Ferrer, as Carlos Martino.

He made his debut as soloist in 1929 under the sobriquet of Carlos Martins and, in 1933, he formed the Vega-Martins duo, and later appeared with the pseudonym Carlos Rainer along with the Neira brothers. As guitarist, he later accompanied the singer Agustín Magaldi who recorded the waltz “El unitario de San Miguel” that Martins had written. He also composed the song “Te llevo en el alma”.

He performed as soloist on different radio stations of the capital and at several tango venues. In 1940 don Osvaldo Pablo Valle persuaded him to adopt the name Roberto Quiroga as sobriquet and, that same year he joined the orchestra led by the bandoneonist Ernesto de la Cruz.

In 1941 he joined the Julio De Caro Orchestra and with the composer of “Boedo” he recorded “De vuelta al bulín” and “El candombe”. In 1942 he joined the tango orchestra led by Alberto Soifer, with whom he cut for RCA-Victor “Mi Buenos Aires querido” and “Alondras”, a composition arranged as a waltz composed by the leader of the outfit.

By then it was clearly evidenced in Roberto Quiroga his Gardelian style and his successful stints in barrooms and tea rooms made him reach a central place at the program sponsored by Jabón Federal which by then was broadcasted by Radio Belgrano. During his gigs as soloist he generally sang backed by guitars, even though he also was accompanied by the Orquesta Típica Victor or by the Héctor Artola’s orchestra .

When his popularity grew, in spite of certain criticism by those who regarded him as an imitator of Carlos Gardel, Roberto Quiroga was called to join our national cinema and so in 1948 he was starred in El cantor del pueblo and in 1949, Otra cosa es con guitarra and Cuidado con las imitaciones.

In El cantor del pueblo the intention of the producers of the film in linking Roberto Quiroga’s figure with Carlos Gardel’s is evident, because to the chosen plot is added the appearance of an actor that elicits Gardelian reminiscences, such is the case of Tito Lusiardo; who with Mario Fortuna and Ricardo Quiroga form a trio of poor young guys that are trying to become famous interpreters of tango. The actresses were Perla Mux and Herminia Franco.

In his next movie, Otra cosa es con guitarra he appeared accompanied by Francisco Chiarmielo, Mario Fortuna, Marcos Zucker and in the film the Domingo Federico Orchestra, Jorge Vidal, Héctor Larroca, Panchito Cao and Barry Moral are as well featured.

In Imitaciones Peligrosas he appeared, now in a role of greater importance, alongside Tito Martínez del Box, Carlos Castro (Castrito), Chela Cordero, Marcelo Ruggero, La Cruzada del Buen Humor, Dorita Alonso and Délfor.

These three movies were labeled as C films, what seemed to confirm that what was intended was to take advantage of the popularity of the singer disregarding the cinematographic quality of the films. However, these movies were shown abroad and became the means that allowed Roberto Quiroga later to make successful tours throughout the American countries.

In fact, in December 1949 he started a tour of the United States, visiting several states of the Union. Later he went to the Caribbean area, much later to Venezuela and Colombia where he cut several recordings with orchestra or guitar accompaniment.

In our country he continued his professional activity, appearing in different cities of the interior and at various tango venues of our capital; such as the Bar Victoria on Corrientes Avenue —between Thames and Serrano— and La Tablita on Avenida del Trabajo (today Av. Eva Perón) and Lautaro, in the neighborhood of Flores, where nowadays a local of a chain of supermarkets is located. Precisely one evening, performing at that local, Quiroga had a brain hemorrhage and died on the ambulance on its way to the Zubizarreta hospital. It was February 1, 1965 and the singer was only 54.

According to Oscar del Priore, Roberto Quiroga was the one who first sang the lines written by Celedonio Flores of the tango “Por qué canto así”. In the recording of that number he was accompanied by the guitar players Cornejo and Cáceres.

During his career, Roberto Quiroga cut around 40 records in studios of Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia; and was accompanied by guitars in some of them and, in others, by orchestras such as the ones led by the maestros Julio De Caro, Alberto Soifer, Ricardo Pedevilla, Alberto Dimaggio and the Orquesta Típica Coca Cola, the latter formed by the sponsoring drink for the radio program La ronda musical de las Américas. Among the guitarists that accompanied him in his recordings Cornejo, Cáceres, Avena, Demasi, Toto and Rolando stood out.

Mario Bosco told me that he witnessed many scenes of the movie El cantor del pueblo when they were shot in the Mercado de Abasto and he recalled Roberto Quiroga as an educated, warm and sensible man, who during the habitual breaks in the shooting, played truco (cards) at the Universal barroom on Anchorena Street, between Corrientes and Guardia Vieja (today Carlos Gardel).

I have said that the figure of Roberto Quiroga was resisted by many sectors who considered him an imitator of El Zorzal Criollo. I don't want to end this chronicle without textually repeating the answer that Oscar Ferrari, a singer contemporary to Quiroga, gave to me when I asked him his opinion about it. Ferrari told me: «After Gardel's death, the media, the recording companies, the whole milieu were waiting for a new Gardel and that did not happen nor will it take place because Gardel was unique. Hallelujah! But Buenos Aires wanted to find a replacement for Gardel. One very important, I don't mean the first, was Roberto Quiroga and people even thought that he may be the substitute for Carlos Gardel. The man even caused a traffic jam on Corrientes Avenue, had a wide airing, was starred in three movies, but he was not El Morocho. Then came Jorge Casal, he was also expected as the great singer. Roberto Quiroga was a very good singer for me.»

Soon I asked him:
Do you think that that was his true voice or that he was imitating Gardel?
«No, for me that was his voice.»
Then was it only that Roberto Quiroga sang in a purely Gardelian style?
«Certainly, so Carlitos Acuña did. Furthermore the Gardelian repertory shall never die because it is the source where we all turn to. We are all Gardel's children!»