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.

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital