Episode: Gershwin and Daugherty go Latin


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Gershwin and Daugherty go Latin
In the 1950s, if you said the words “Cuban music,” perhaps Desi Arnez, a.k.a. Ricky Ricardo, singing “Babaloo” might come to mind. These days, it’s more likely the Buena Vista Social Club. On today’s date back in 1932, George Gershwin had Cuban music on his mind when the New York Philharmonic premiered his “Cuban Overture” under its original title “Rumba.” Cuban dance music has always proved appealing to North American composers and long before Gershwin, the 19th century piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk toured Cuba and imitated some of the sounds and rhythms he heard there in his original works. In the early 1940s, a young hay fever sufferer named Leonard Bernstein escaped the New England pollen of Tanglewood for a time in Key West. There he was inspired by the Latin dance bands he heard on radio Havana to write a jaunty, little Cuban-style dance of his own that would resurface some 15 years later as the song “America” in Bernstein’s hit musical, “West Side Story.” And in 1990, American composer Michael Daughterty composed his orchestral conga line entitled “Desi”—a symphonic tribute to Cuban bandleader Desi Arnez, in his pop icon role of, who else, Ricky Ricardo.

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