Tito Rivadeneira
| Osvaldo Cattaneo

Updated data about the origin of Villoldo and his family

n the tango literature it is usual to find writers that state that Ángel Gregorio Villoldo Arroyo was born in the neighborhood of Barracas, that his parents were Juan Villoldo (Uruguayan) and Victoria Arroyo, and that he had two sisters: Irene and Petrona.

However, this information —that we think was orally transmitted for decades— has not been duly checked with official and/or church documents of its time. In this essay, precisely, we tackle these matters, using an approach that combines both sources.

For the time being, there are no reliable pieces of evidence that the composer was born in Barracas since his birth certificate was not found. The Barracas historian Enrique Puccia, in the introduction to his book “El Buenos Aires de Angel G. Villoldo” (Editorial Corregidor, 1996), made the following question: «In what neighborhood of the city or in what locality of the interior of the country Villoldo was born?» And below he adds: «Our intuition leads us to expand our search towards some of the cities or localities of Entre Ríos, but we insist that it is only a mere guess». Taking this suggestion as encouragement we have visited all the parish churches of that province, also adding those of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe, but to no avail.

That he was a man of Barracas, there is no doubt, but that he was born in that neighborhood cannot be accepted so easily. Orlando del Greco wrote in his own hand to Puccia in 1978: «I don’t know the neighborhood but I’m almost sure that Angel G. Villoldo was born in Barracas or in La Boca.» Pay attention that Del Greco says “almost” but he does not present evidence.

To research about this all the parish churches of the city of Buenos Aires, the house of children abandoned at birth (Casa de Expósitos) and the registry offices were visited. Furthermore, the files of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as Mormons) were checked. At those places not only we inquired into his birth but also about the one corresponding to Irene Villoldo, his sister. But the results were negative. In Paris (1907) Villoldo said when he joined the Society of Authors and Composers of France that he was born on February 16, 1861. Del Greco found this information but Julián Porteño also knew about it.

As from here tango historians agree that this date is, in fact, the one which corresponds to his birth. But there was, however, a previous document of 1898 signed by Villoldo: the death certificate of his mother, in which he stated he was 37 years old, that is to say, that he was born in 1861. (The lady died on May 17, 1898 on Irala 22, La Boca, at age 82). That date of birth was reinforced by the musician’s enrollment document itself, which was another finding of our research. He complied with the proceedings to get it in 1911 when he was 50. He applied for it, according to the Enrollment Law 8129, before the Argentine Army, Region I, Military District Nº 3, Individual Enrollment Nº 75, and he stated, with his signature and fingerprint of his right hand thumb, that he was born on February 16, 1861 in the Federal Capital. In the photo of that document Villoldo is seen with grey hair.

Therefore with these two new documents we corroborate what is widely agreed by historians: Ángel Villoldo was born on February 16, 1861.

When surveying the National Census of 1895, new questions about Villoldo spring up: his mother and his possible siblings. Let us see some data of that census made on March 10: “Villoldo, Angel, male, 35 years old, Argentine, born in the Federal Capital, trade: typographer”. On that occasion the composer said he was 35 years old when he ought to have said he was 34. Probable that was a mistake by the census taker.

He also said he was married (C). We guess that by “casado” (married) Villoldo might have meant “in concubinage” because there are no hints that he had married at all. However, we ask ourselves: who was that woman named Victoria Molina, 36 years old, presser, single, Argentine, born in the Federal Capital? Maybe was Victorina, to whom Oscar del Priore mentions as his partner? Did Villoldo say he was married not to embarrass this lady before the census taker?

Now let us talk about Victoria Arroyo de Villoldo, woman, 75 years old, vidow, Argentine, born in Santa Fe, she does not mention trade or occupation (we guess, housewife), married for 30 years, 7 children. By mentioning that age she ought to have been born in 1820. But in her death certificate the witnesses —including her son Ángel— state that the deceased woman was 82 years old; if that was true she had to be born in 1816. Up to now we can confirm the existence of three children: Irene, Ángel and Petrona. If in 1895 Mrs. Arroyo was 75 and had been married for 30 years, she married when she was 45. When Villoldo stated he was 35 he is saying that he was born before his parents married; then the “irregular” information seems to come from Victoria Arroyo, unless her children had been illegal and prior to the marriage. Is it possible that Victoria Arroyo had given birth to a child after her 45th birthday? Yes, it is possible, but exceptional for that time, and completely impossible for seven children. We think that his siblings or half brothers/sisters (in case they were) might have been born (a possible hypothesis) after 1835. As for Cándido Argüello, mentioned in the census, we do not know who he was.

As for Juan Villoldo, whom his daughter Irene stated in her marriage certificate (1888) that he was oriental, his baptism record was not found either in Uruguay or in Argentina. Neither was his death certificate found. Furthermore, there is no information about his trade or job; it is as if he had not existed. And this is connected with Irene’s marriage certificate (1888).

Had Irene been baptized? Did she possess a baptism certificate? We thought that if she had been formally married that would have been a condition required by the church. To check this we saw the marriage report that, prior to this sacrament, bride and bridegroom must necessarily complete in the parish church. It says: «Irene Villoldo, born in the country, age 30, single. Legitimate daughter (.) of Juan (deceased) and of Victoria Arroyo (alive)». What attracted our attention was the symbol that appears close to legitimate daughter: what is the meaning of that small parenthesis ( )? Looking for marriage reports of several years before and after signed by the same priest, in the same parish church, that parenthesis did not appear again. Was it an abbreviation, a personal mark, what did it mean? But due to the lack of records it makes us think that possibly the priest had doubts about it or was noting that there was some document or verification pending. Was Irene not baptized? Had she not produced some document previously required, still pending, that proved she was legitimate daughter of Juan Villoldo and Victoria Arroyo? There are many empty spaces about the information of a father whose personal data do not appear.

Spiro Petenello and Luisa María Botto de Petenello, Italians, that arrived in our country around 1871, might have been the “patrons” of Ángel and Irene Villoldo. From this marriage five sons, all Argentine, were born, and José María was the youngest. Edgardo Petenello, grandson of the latter and, consequently, Spiro’s great grandson, told us in a personal interview that «his great grandparents had taken in the little orphans Ángel and Irene Villoldo from the street when they were kids». (Let us remember that at that time minors up to 14 years old were regarded as kids). Regretfully, Edgardo had not a more accurate information but he emphasized that that event was clearly transmitted among the descendants. He also added that Irene, when she was older, worked in the household of the Petenello family and as well with the Lamas family. Puccia also said that Irene worked with the family of the lieutenant commander Alfredo Lamas but he said nothing about the Petenellos. As for “little orphans” we think he referred to the fact that they lacked a father and that they were, in a way, helpless in the street because their mother —it is only a guess— was unable to feed and educate them properly.

We know nothing about the work Victoria Arroyo carried out but, according to the opinions of some historians, the Villoldo family was very poor. Irene was uncapable to read throughout her lifetime and Ángel, even though he read and wrote, died very poor. Then it was not likely that Mrs. Victoria had a certain financial support to provide a minimal level of life for her children.

María Cecilia Petenello, in time, told us that his grandparent Alberto (Edgardo’s father and the latter was her father) had once told her: «That his family had owned a barroom in Buenos Aires where Villoldo wrote several of his tango pieces». But María Cecilia did not know where it was located.

The remains of Ángel Villoldo and his mother have been resting in the vault of the Petenello family, in Chacarita, since 1967. When you ask people connected to tango about the place where the remains of Villoldo are buried, the answers are two: I don’t know it or —others say— at the SADAIC pantheon. This latter statement it is quite probably based on the comment that Puccia made in his book. What really happened is that on July 28, 1967 the remains of the composer and his mother Victoria Arroyo were transfered from the vault that belongs to the Lamas family to the one owned by the Petenello family. The vault was bought by Luisa María Botto in 1912. Nora Petenello, one of her great granddaughters, showed us te sheet of burials of the book issued by the Chacarita cemetery. On one of its pages, fifth and sixth rows, the entry of two coffins is filed in the record.

Facing the impossibility —up to now— of getting the documents, if they do exist, we come to the conclusion that there is a high probability that Ángel had been an illegal son of Juan and Victoria (their marriage certificate does not either appear). In agreement with the largest number of researchers we accept that February 16, 1861 was his date of birth; that he lived his chilhood at first with his parents, later was taken in by the Petenello family until he grew up and returned with his mother. As for his father Juan, there is no reliable information that he was an Uruguayan. As for his brothers/sisters (half brothers/sisters?), Irene and Petrona are confirmed and, possibly Juana. Less likely is Juan, as elder brother, and Victoria.

About all this we shall have to go on researching but we think we have taken an important step in discovering these, until now, unknown aspects of Ángel Villoldo’s childhood/adolescence.

From the book: Ángel Villoldo. Aportes e interrogantes sobre el origen del autor de El Choclo, by Tito Rivadeneira and Osvaldo Cattaneo, Editorial Dunken, July 2011.