Obituary: Alicia Parl

ALICIA PARLA'S brief spell of international fame occurred as "Queen of the Rumba", at the centre of the first world vogue for Cuban music in the 1930s.

Parl was born in 1914 in Havana to a well-off middle-class family - her father was an ophthalmologist, her uncle Agustn was the first Cuban aviator. Socially, she was far removed from the world of rumba, a percussion and dance style peculiar to Cuba's black underclass, a good part of which had arrived relatively recently from Africa, as slavery persisted in Cuba much later than elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Alicia Parl, escorted by her mother and sister, was sent to convent school in Key West, Florida, and from there to New York, where she arrived to study typing aged 16. Sharing the house where the Parls lodged was a dance school, which Alicia attended enthusiastically, and whose proprietor brought to her attention an audition for dancers being held by a newly arrived Cuban bandleader. Parl, a strikingly elegant girl with green eyes, went along and was chosen from 150 applicants.

The bandleader was Modesto "Don" Azpiazu, whose orchestra had been one of the principal attractions of Havana's Casino Nacional for half a dozen years, and who was about to unleash on New York, in the wake of the success of the Argentinean tango, authentic Cuban music for the first time.

Don Azpiazu's Havana Casino Orchestra took the stage of the Palace Theatre on Broadway for the first time on 26 April 1930 attired in white ruffled shirts and red peasant neckerchiefs, equipped with a full range of Latin percussion and playing a repertoire primarily consisting of Cuban sones, danzones and congas, plus the occasional tango. Certain numbers featured an exhibition dance interlude based on the rumba - a glamorised version, by contrast with the packing case percussion-backed street version of Cuba's black dockers, but startlingly new, raw and sexy to American theatre audiences.

Halfway through the set the Azpiazu band introduced a catchy number based on a pregon - a Cuban street-seller's cry - called "El Manicero", ("The Peanut Vendor"), which was to become, and remains today, one of the most famous pieces of Latin popular music.

Azpiazu's reputation, and "The Peanut Vendor"'s, spread rapidly, aided by the interest of New York's growing Latino population, and by the end of the year the song was being covered by a clutch of newly assembled Cuban bands, the Havana Royal Orchestra, Havana Novelty Orchestra, as well as all the top dance bands, and a full-scale Cuban craze was under way, with even George Gershwin writing a Cuban Overture. The journalist Walter Winchell, after initial scepticism - he claimed wrongly that "The Peanut Vendor" was based on Ravel's Bolero - was soon a convert, describing Parl as a "lovely Havana torso flipper".

After a tour of the United States, the Azpiazu band hit Europe in 1932, arriving in Paris via Monte Carlo, where the Prince of Wales asked Parl for a rumba lesson. On Bastille Day, 14 July, Alicia Parl descended a stairway on stage at La Plantation club on the Champs-Elysee for her Paris debut, trailing a long ruffled bata de cola train to tumultuous applause.

The following day the papers dubbed her the "Marianne of Cuba", after the French Republic's mythical figurehead, and "Mariana de Cuba" became her European nickname, and the brand name of a series of perfumes and soaps launched within months to cash in on the Cuban craze.

By the end of the year, the original Azpiazu band had shed half its members, who stayed to found a generation of Paris-based Cuban bands. Azpiazu himself continued to tour Europe and the United States and died in 1943, by which time the mambo craze, Cuba's next musical export, was about to unfurl.

Alicia Parl bowed out of the spotlight as abruptly as she had entered it, giving up the stage to return to Havana and become a housewife and mother. After divorcing her first husband she returned briefly to showbusiness, making two films in Mexico in the 1950s, before marrying twice more, her second husband being the pelota (Basque hand-ball) star Guillermo Amuchastequi, known as "The Monarch of the Courts".

In 1959, when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, Parl moved to Miami, where she worked as a hospital administrator for 20 years before retiring.

At her funeral mass in the Little Havana church of St Raymond, Miami, last week , among the music played was the great Trio Matamoros song "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" ("Those Green Eyes"), which, after her triumphant return to her home city in the 1940s, they used to play to her when she walked into Havana's smart Floridita cocktail bar.

Alicia Parl, dancer: born Havana 1914; married first Antonio Fuello (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Guillermo Amuchastequi (marriage dissolved), third Armando Gali-Menendez (deceased); died Miami, Florida 6 October 1998.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor