Pérez Prado [1916-1989]
For many people, Dámaso Pérez Prado personified the mambo in the 1950s. Garnering attention as the pianist and arranger for Cuba’s most famous band, La Sonora Matancera, he worked with a variety of casino dance bands in Havana in the 1940s.
His international career took off when he moved from Cuba to Mexico City in 1948. There he recorded for RCA with a big band that gave a dramatic new sound to the mambo with fast tempos, interlocking saxophone and trumpet riffs and exciting breaks (punctuated by Prado’s trademark grunt, “huh!”).
With minimal lyrics, and energetic horn lines and rhythms, Prado’s mambos appealed to dancers internationally. In 1950, his recording of Que Rico Mambo was covered by Sonny Burke as Mambo Jambo and was a big hit in the U.S. Prado organized a U.S. tour the following year during which he played to sold-out audiences, boosting his record sales in the U.S. His hit songs include Mambo No.5, Mambo No.8, and Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, a cha cha cha that topped the charts in the U.S. and Europe in 1955.