World-renowned musician, singer and comedienne Charo is still performing. She just completed 20 days of sold-out performances in Ft. Lauderdale.
“I was born with ants in my pants!” she exclaims.
Her new show is 30 minutes of salsa, featuring the latest dance moves from South America and Europe. The last 45 minutes of her act features her playing classical guitar. She’s well-respected by her musical peers: Charo was voted “Best Flamenco Guitarist” twice by Guitar Magazine.
Her recordings are in high demand on iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby, Pandora. We discovered a savvy, well-educated and brilliant woman underneath the glitz.
This differs from what people may remember from her “Cuchi, cuchi!” appearances on shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Love Boat.
“It took me many years to come to this point. It was very negative, but I went to the bank,” as she puts her own spin on “laughing all the way to the bank.” Perhaps she wasn’t laughing, because people didn’t get the right impression of her.
She revealed details: “In the 1980s, I got in the biggest fight with my producer. They said I would ruin my image (with classical guitar). The company was very frustrated.” They didn’t hold high hopes for her CD, “Guitar Passion,” but it was a success.
I asked about her childhood before getting discovered as a girl by Latin band leader, Xavier Cugat — who also discovered Desi Arnaz.
Charo is philosophical about her fascinating beginnings: “The destiny has everything to do with us. When I was 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, I was blessed to live in the south of Spain. My (hometown) is the Castilian town of Muncia. The sun, the weather, provides food to Spain and (the rest of) Europe.
“I spent every summer with my grandparents, they had a huge farm. They welcomed gypsies, ‘los gitanos’ (as migrant farm workers). They came with the horse, caravans. If not for that, I would not know the guitar. They arrived full of life! They survived with music. Every night, they made a bonfire in the acres. The children danced, the old men played the guitar.”
The farm workers taught her an ancient Spanish style of music. “Flamenco, it is like jazz. I was fascinated. (The gypsies) They loved me. They gave me an old guitar. I tried to revive that style in the south of Spain. It’s (been around for) hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Then, akin to early African-American pioneers of Rock 'n' Roll in the south, politics and circumstances changed the direction of her life forever. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s government took the property.
“We went to Madrid. We (she and her sister) studied classical.” Charo modestly doesn’t name-drop that she was a prodigy student of world-famous master of Flamenco guitar, Andrés Segovia.
She was also interested in medicine and is adamant that had she not become a musician, she would’ve been a surgeon. “All the surgeons I know are also entwined with music. Call me ‘Dr. Cuchi Cuchi’! To survive, don’t be cocky.” she adds as an afterthought.
We talked about her heritage. “I know what I am! Castilian, Moorish and Jewish. The Flamenco songs are like ‘Tradition’ (from Fiddler on the Roof)!” She then sang bits of the songs.
“We are a mix. My mom is blonde and my dad is green (olive skinned).” Charo is planning a show combining “history with a touch of entertainment. These kids don’t know history!”
I noted that she maintains a very glam image, but shows a fun personality that’s appreciated by both men and women. I wondered how she made that connection with audiences.
She answered, “I am a people person.” She notes that teenagers have discovered her on social media. “I love people of all backgrounds. I hate divos and divas! They are the worst thing that has happened to this business. They put a barrier between them and the audience.”
Charo is involved in animal rights. “I don’t agree with the old customs, the bullfighting. They do this to a nice, innocent animal. I asked for help from PETA.” She wrote a dance tune, “Don’t Fight, Just Dance.” She based it on beautiful music that’s played when the bull is killed. Charo even raised a bull, Manolo, in her home in Beverly Hills.
I asked if she missed the days of the big bands, a la Cugat.
“There is nothing like live music. Money is the answer to that question. There are incredible costs with a big band. Two or three good keyboardists replace the symphony. I feel sorry for them, because I am a musician. It’s for economy. The sound is so full, (but) nothing like the full orchestra of Xavier Cugat.”
Tamar Alexia Fleishman was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youngest female solo violinist. A world-traveler, Fleishman provides readers with international flavor and culture. She's debated Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil. Fleishman practices law in Maryland with a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. Read Tamar Alexia Fleishman's Reports — More Here.
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