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Belisario López Rossi was born on October 7, 1903 in the city of Cárdenas in the Matanzas province of Cuba. As a child he began to study music with the help of his mother. At the beginning of the 1920s, the López family moved to the city of Havana where Belisario continued his musical studies, choosing the five-key flute as an instrument. A few years later, López entered the University of Havana and studied law, graduating as a lawyer specializing in tax law. From that moment on, his life was split between practicing law and playing music, dual careers that he carried out with admirable skill, tenacity and a capacity for plenty of hard work. It can certainly be said that he triumphed in both; however, he is of course most widely remembered for his music.

Though today Belisario López may not be a household name like Johnny Pacheco -- another New York-based immigrant musician who first came to prominence during the pachanga fad of the early 1960s with a charanga -- López’s orchestra, during its active period in New York, was extremely popular and played all the top nightclubs, theaters and society balls, from the Palladium and Carnegie Hall to the Waldorf Astoria, as well as for more strictly downhome Latin audiences at barrio venues like El Teatro Puerto Rico and The Cuban Inter-American Club in The Bronx. Belisario López and his orchestra also successfully toured many other American cities as well as Puerto Rico. Probably his biggest self-penned hit during the 1960s in New York was “El Camarón” (The Shrimp) from 1961, a catchy and popular tune he had previously recorded in Cuba as well. Some of his other well-loved hits were “En Casa De Estanislao,” composed by Arsenio Rodríguez, a cover of Electo “Chepín” Rosell’s son montuno “El Platanal de Bartolo” and “El Sucu Cucu,” while the entertainingly funky rhythm & blues influenced “Pachanga Bum Bum” by the band’s Rudy Calzado anticipates the boogaloo movement, much like Ray Barretto’s better known “El Watusi” of 1963.

-Pablo Yglesias

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