José Bohr

Real name: Böhr Elzer, Yopes
Singer, composer, lyricist, actor and leader
(3 September 1901 - 29 May 1994)
Place of birth:
Bonn (Renania del Norte-Westfalia) Germany
Alberto Rasore

a href="">José Bohr was not yet one year old (he was born in Bonn, Germany), when his father, Daniel Bohr, decided to leave with its family toward Constantinople to work as veterinarian in the private stables and the zoological of the palace of Abdul Ahmid, last sultan of Turkey. Almost three years later, an attack against the sultan forced the Germans to leave the country. They had to sail to Marseilles, and from there to Buenos Aires, where his father worked for a time in the Cervecería Palermo until he finally settled in Punta Arenas, Chile, in 1904. After this journey José Bohr spent his childhood and youth in the Chilean south, until he moved to Buenos Aires in 1921.

Bohr himself explains to us about his family name, in 1987, when he wrote his memoirs in a book entitled Desde el Balcón de Mi Vida: «At that time my name was José Böhr, that is to say, with two dots on the o. He had got a job in an advertising company headed by Federico Küster. Once when I answered the telephone, Don Federico went out of his office and stayed listening to me and told me: —Please do me the favor of not saying Küster (Kister) because nobody will understand you. Say simply Kuster and that's all, ah! and from now on you neither will call yourself Böhr (Behr) because not even God will know how your name is pronounced. As from this day you will simply be José Bohr. —And he rebaptized me and since then the two dots on my name have disappeared.»

He began to carry out his career as singer on Radio Cultura, accompanying himself on the piano. He made hits of his tunes “Tut-Ank-Amon” and “Cascabelito”, while at the same time he got a job in the Casa Castiglione devoted to the sale of pianos, discs and pianola rolls. One day he was in his job —Bohr will remember in his memoirs— he received the following phone call: «—Che, tell me. You're the kid of the radio. Aren't you? Don't you know who you're talking to? You're speaking with the most famous voice in Argentina. You're talking to Carlitos Gardel. They have told me that you wrote an amazing tango which has much soul and that it's very romantic, something that has to do with carnival.» «—“Cascabelito”?» Bohr dared to say timidly. «—Exactly, Gardel answered to him. Che, kid why don't you do something, come to my house, play your tango on the piano for the boys and me, we learn it by heart and I cut it on record for you. Next week it'll be released, kid. It'll be a boom, you'll see!»

It was also in the Casa Castiglione where Francisco Pirincho Canaro appeared in person, who having listened to him playing the musical saw, wanted him to make a recording featuring him with this instrument accompanied by his orchestra. And Azucena Maizani also visited him to tell him: «José Bohr, I shall make my debut with Florencio Parravicini in the play Cristóbal Colón en la Facultad de Medicina. I have to sing the tango “La cabeza del italiano”, but if an encore is requested, I would like to premiere “Cascabelito”, provided you accompany me with the musical saw, in order to add more flavor.»

He was in the opening of Radio Brusa. The first transmissions were carried out in the engineer Brusa's house and Bohr it would recall an anecdote when they aired one of his records, along with Rosita Quiroga and Agustín Magaldi. The latter said: «—Che, Ro... Ro... Rosita... but this ki... this ki... this kid does not strike a single no... note... .» And Rosita answered him: «—Look, Agustín, maybe Bohr does not strike a note, but what he does is noticed and it sounds good.»

In 1924 he made his debut as chansonnier in the Teatro Porteño, in the revue written by Ivo Pelay, Bayón Herrera and Manuel Romero entitled DePpuente Alsina a Montmartre, where he appeared singing his own songs. The following year in the same theater he premiered one of his greatest hits, "Pero hay una melena", in the revue A Ver Quién Nos Pisa el Poncho. In 1925 his name will appear in the catalogs of Discos Nacional, alongside the most noted artists of the time such as: Gardel-Razzano, Roberto Firpo, Francisco Lomuto, Ignacio Corsini, Mario Pardo, Juan Maglio, Azucena Maizani, the Ruiz-Acuña duo.

His expectations for greater goals led him to try his luck in the United States, «but before that on September 3, 1925 as sincere gratefulness to Argentina for all it had given me, I became a citizen of the great nation of the River Plate. And as an Argentine, I undertook the new conquest of other worlds I dreamed of», Bohr would write in his memoirs.

So, since 1925, the northern country witnessed his triumphs, although he had to return that same year to fulfill a contract in the Teatro Porteño. After that engagement he was free to return to the United States. On this occasion he traveled with his tango orchestra, with a group of malambo and chacarera dancers and a guitar group. Later when he was already known as Che Bohr he will make countless tours throughout America and Europe.

In 1940 he returned briefly to Buenos Aires, and appeared at the Teatro Nacional, and for three months he performed on Radio Belgrano as exclusive artist of Píldoras Ross. The following year he would record his voice like one of the so many singers of the Típica Víctor, waxing his tango “Por el camino” and his Mexican ballad whose true title is “Por mis pistolas”, but because of the censorship of those years it figured as “Por mis trabucos”. He would continue with his endless tours, returning again to our country to appear on the TV Channel 7 and in 1960 on Channel 13 in the programs El Bar de Bohr and Caminando por el Mundo. On March 21, 1981 he appeared on ATC in the program Show Fantástico, along with Tita Merello and on July 15, 1981 in Grandes Valores de Hoy y de Siempre they paid him homage.

As composer the following pieces are his: the above mentioned “Cascabelito”, “Pero hay una melena”, “Por el camino”, “Tut-Ank-Amon” and the tango “Mía (Para ti)”, the fox trot “Oh París” and the shimmy “Reyes del aire”. All these numbers were committed to disc by Carlos Gardel. He also composed “Titina”, “Y tenías un lunar”, “Medias de seda” (premiered by Ignacio Corsini in 1925 in the play Un cansado de la vida at the Teatro Smart), the bolero “Nada más que tú” (a hit sung by Mercedes Simone), “¡Oh, Dios, qué mujer!”, “Labios Pintados”, “No está” (a tango recorded by Carlos Di Sarli and his vocalist Alberto Podestá), “Anoche soñé” (recorded in Mexico by Pedro Vargas), and around thirty pieces more like “El himno a la ciudad de Punta Arenas”.

Cinema was another of his passions. Already in 1919 he shot in Chile, Noticiero de Actualidades Magallánicas and some short films more. Pioneer of sound movies, in 1929 he was starred in Sombras de gloria the first movie spoken in Spanish filmed in Hollywood. As actor, director, script writer and/or producer he appeared in approximately forty-five movies, most them shot in Chile and Mexico and some in Argentina. On January 14, 1980 on the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Sombras de gloria, the Academy of Hollywood, through its executive director James Roberts, awarded him the famous Oscar in recognition for his career. He said that it was a pity that at that time this prize was not meant for foreign movies, because surely José Bohr would have won it.

He spent his latter years in Denmark with his wife and children. He frequently returned to his beloved Chile where he spent his juvenile years and where, in 1960, he was honored with the title of Illustrious Citizen of the City of Punta Arenas and, now, the Municipal Theater of that city is named in his memory Municipal Theater José Bohr.

His death took place in the capital of Norway, Oslo.