Consuelo Velázquez

Composer of the ballad 'Besame Mucho'
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The Independent Online

The intimate Mexican ballad " Besame Mucho" is among the greatest, and certainly one of the most recorded, songs of the 20th century, with versions by such diverse artists as the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Dame Vera Lynn and the Grateful Dead. Its composer, Consuelo Velázquez, never came near to repeating the international success of that composition, although she wrote many other songs and was a noted singer and pianist in Mexico.

Torres Ortiz Consuelo Velázquez, composer: born Ciudad Guzmán, Mexico 29 August 1916; married 1944 Mariano Ravera Conde (two sons); died Mexico City 22 January 2005.

The intimate Mexican ballad " Besame Mucho" is among the greatest, and certainly one of the most recorded, songs of the 20th century, with versions by such diverse artists as the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Dame Vera Lynn and the Grateful Dead. Its composer, Consuelo Velázquez, never came near to repeating the international success of that composition, although she wrote many other songs and was a noted singer and pianist in Mexico.

Consuelo Velázquez was born in the city of Ciudad Guzmán in central Mexico in 1916, although she preferred to say that she was born in 1920. She had a prodigious talent and began playing the piano untaught when she was four. She made her first public appearance at the Academy in Serratos when she was six and she studied at the National Conservatory. In 1938 she was received as a concert pianist at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts. She made her film début in Noches de Carnaval ("Carnival Nights", 1938).

After graduation, she worked as the head of classical music for the radio station XEQ but she secretly enjoyed other forms of music. She began to write popular tunes and in 1941 composed the romantic ballad " Besame Mucho", which she regarded as a Mexican bolero, although it is more commonly played as a rumba today. Its theme was to be kissed more and more, although Velázquez joked that she had never been kissed romantically when she wrote it.

Quite by chance, the song coincided with a dispute over the broadcasting of songs in America. The performing rights organisation Ascap had demanded higher fees for their members and so broadcasters were looking elsewhere. A new and rival organisation, BMI, generated an interest in songs from south of the border, and the influx of material included " Besame Mucho", " Amapola" and "Green Eyes". " Besame Mucho" was given an English lyric by Sunny Skylar and the first American recording was by Andy Russell.

In terms of its popularity and universality, " Besame Mucho" became the " La Bamba" of the 1940s. It was a million-selling record for Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra with the vocalists Kitty Kallen and Bob Eberle in 1943 and topped the US charts for seven weeks. The song was featured in the musical Follow the Boys (1944) and it was the perfect song for couples separated by war.

Velázquez appeared as a pianist in the film Mis Padres Se Divorcian ("My Parents are Divorced", 1959). She made many records both as a singer and pianist, including " Pecado" ("Sin"), " La Que Se Fue" ("Departed"), "Corazon" ("Dearest"), " Amar y Vivar" ("To Love and to Live"), and " Que divino" ("How Wonderful"). Although several titles were recorded by English- speaking artists, they did not find success and a reappraisal of her catalogue is long overdue.

" Besame Mucho" was one of the first songs in the repertoire of the fledgling Beatles and they performed it at their unsuccessful audition for Decca Records on New Year's Day 1962. Paul McCartney said in Many Years from Now (1997):

It's a minor song and it changes to a major, and where it changes to a major is such a big moment musically. That major change attracted me so much.

The melodic influence of "Besame Mucho" can be heard in the McCartney composition "Like Dreamers Do", a hit for the Applejacks in 1964, and the harmonic change can be heard in "I'll Be Back" and "Things We Said Today".

Dominic Pedler, the musicologist and author of The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles (2003), says,

It seems fair to say that the parallel key shift of " Besame Mucho" provided the Beatles with a crucial early introduction to one of the most essential musical devices with which they transformed pop songwriting. From as early as "Do You Want to Know a Secret" (E minor intro/ E major verse), through to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (A minor verse/ A major bridge), and on to "Real Love" (E minor intro/ E major verse), this type of emotional shift between dark and light has defined some of their finest music.

In April 1962 Jet Harris, formerly of the Shadows, took a throbbing instrumental treatment of the song into the Top Thirty. Celebrations took place in Guadalajara in August that year to celebrate the song's 20th anniversary and many artists who had recorded the song took part in the festivities. The hundreds of artists who have performed " Besame Mucho" now include José Carreras, the Coasters, Nat "King" Cole, Sammy Davis Jnr, Céline Dion, Placido Domingo, Diana Krall, Mario Lanza, the Mavericks, Art Pepper, Artie Shaw and Caterina Valente.

It has been used in numerous films, including Giant (1956) and notably the radical 1998 reworking of Great Expectations in which Anne Bancroft plays the reclusive Nora Dinsmore (that is, Miss Haversham) who, as she laments the wedding that did not happen, dances to several different interpretations of Velázquez's song.

A short film, Consuelo Velázquez, was made in 1992. At around the turn of the Millennium, she received several awards as one of the Latin women of the century, while the Spanish TV station Univision called " Besame Mucho" the song of the century. In 2003 a sculpture of Velázquez by the well-known artist Sergio Peraza was unveiled in Mexico City.

Spencer Leigh

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