You’ve taken your seat, the house lights have gone down, and the velvet curtain opens. The spotlight falls upon a piano. We hear footsteps. A man approaches the piano, steps into the light, and pauses before sitting down. He is not a tall man, and he is dressed simply in black pants and a white guayabera.1 He looks at the audience with sparkling dark eyes under a greying hairline. He has the air of a wise and kindly old grandfather, but then he smiles, quick and radiant, and we see a playful young boy. His presence is magnetic.
This man is a colossus in the world of music. This man is Armando Manzanero.
Manzanero was born in 1934, in Mérida, a city on the Yucatán Península. He was surrounded by music from the beginning. His mother, Juana Canché, performed folkloric Yucatán dances, and his father, Santiago Manzanero, was a musician — “a magnificent guitarist,” according to Manzanero.2 As a young man, he studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City3 and wrote his first song, “Nunca en el Mundo” (“Never in the World”), in 1950, at which point his professional career as a pianist began.4
Manzanero went on to have a more than 70-year career as a world-renowned and award-winning composer, pianist, singer, and producer. He was “revered as Mexico’s premiere composer of love songs and romantic orchestral themes.”5 Of the more than 600 songs that he wrote,6 400 made it onto the charts, and more than 50 were recorded by superstars such as Luis Miguel, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Elvis, Perry Como, and Christina Aguilera.7 Manzanero earned several top honours from the U.S. and Latin music industries. At the 14th GRAMMY Awards, in 1972, he earned his first and only GRAMMY nomination for Song Of The Year for “It’s Impossible,” performed by Perry Como, the English version of Manzanero’s song, “Somos Novios.” Manzanero was a Latin GRAMMY winner, and he received Lifetime Achievement Awards from both The Latin Recording Academy and The Recording Academy.8
Manzanero was still composing and performing when he was well into his 80s. During the pandemic, he was planning for a tour in 2021 and he wrote a song called “Este Tiempo” (“This Time”), which was “dedicated to love in times of COVID-19” and “highlights a couple’s patience in complicated situations that are experienced at home, but, above all, of the love that has been rekindled in quarantine.”9
Tragically, soon after Manzanero travelled to Mérida in late 2020 to be present at the grand opening of the Casa Manzanero Museum, which had been built to honour his musical legacy, Manzanero was admitted to hospital in Mexico City with Covid 19.10 He died from Covid-related complications on December 28, 2020.11
I hadn’t heard of Manzanero until his death. When I started to learn more about his astonishing career and listen to his music, I discovered what much of the world already knew: here was a tremendous talent whose creations have touched hearts the world over. I’d like to close with the words of Angélica María, celebrated singer and dear friend of Manzanero: he was “a man with a great sense of humor, a man with a great talent that did not fit in his body, because he was very short and the talent was enormous, a man who only wanted to make people feel good and give [them] what he had inside.”12 For giving us so much, Armando Manzanero, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Picture of Armando Manzanero from themazatlanpost.com
1 A traditional formal men’s garment.