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Benigno Ricardo López (1939 - 1991), better known as Rico López, was an excellent singer and composer, well-versed in both salsa and merengue. He was born into poverty in the town of Sabana de La Mar, Dominican Republic. In his youth, he attended secondary school in the capital of Santo Domingo. To support himself, he alternated his classes with street work, buying and selling empty bottles in the morning, selling roasted sweet peanuts in the evening, and polishing shoes on the weekends. During this time, he honed his voice by singing pregones (songs of the street vendor). Later, after receiving a scholarship, he trained as a carpenter and even made his own guitar, which he used for his initial performances, serenading fellow classmates. After participating in several amateur competitions, at the age of 25, he enrolled in the police academy to join the National Police Band. There, he learned to play the güira and sing merengue, performing at large dances and occasionally appearing on television. However, not wanting a career in policing, he left in 1966 to join the famous Santa Cecilia Orchestra directed by Bienvenido Bustamante and later joined Rodolfo Manzano’s orchestra. In 1968, when singer and bandleader Johnny Ventura became ill and could no longer lead his popular Combo Show, López substituted for him. He recorded the hit tune “El Gago” and traveled to New York as the lead singer for El Combo de Johnny Ventura, where he was booked for six months solid at the Havana San Juan Hotel ballroom. Upon his return to the Dominican Republic, López gained further fame by regularly appearing on television. In 1971, pianist Rafael Solano invited him to join his orchestra, where Rico stayed for seven years. He shared vocal duties with Vinicio Franco, wrote several hit songs, and became well-known as a specialist in up-tempo numbers, particularly guaguancó, guaracha and son montuno. 

In 1977, López was given the opportunity to sing lead with one of Solano’s trumpet players, Armando Beltré, who arranged the music for the date. Backed by Rico with his eleven-piece Conjunto Especial, they recorded the Ansonia LP Canto De Remos at Estudio Fabiola in Santo Domingo. The album is an obscure gem, often overlooked by collectors, containing many excellent salsa bangers hidden amongst the merengues. Beltré’s Conjunto Especial matched the sound of any coming out of New York at the time, with a triple trumpet and double sax section, plenty of percussion, piano, and tres guitar, while Rico’s friend Vinicio Franco joined on coro and small percussion. López composed half of the tunes on the record, and “No Te Puedo Olvidar” is one of his best, a super hot guaguancó with lovelorn lyrics, beautifully driven home by Rico’s melancholic and expressive voice. López went on to record an album of merengues the following year for Ansonia with his own band, Los Mensajeros, before signing a distribution deal as Rico López Y Su Orquesta with Solano’s label Kubaney for another three LPs of mostly merengues. Unfortunately a cerebral edema took his life at the relatively young age of 51. Fortunately, especially with his two Ansonia LPs, he left us a rich musical legacy to be rediscovered today.


-Pablo E. Yglesias

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