Dámaso Pérez Prado ( December 11, 1916 – September 14, 1989) was a Cuban-Mexican bandleader, singer, organist, pianist and composer, who also made brief appearances in films.
He is often referred to as the King of the Mambo. He became known and professionally billed by as Pérez Prado, his paternal and maternal surnames respectively.
Pérez Prado became a naturalized citizen of Mexico in 1980. His orchestra was the most popular in mambo. His son, Pérez Prado, Jr., continues to direct the Pérez Prado Orchestra in Mexico City to this day.
Pérez was born in Matanzas, Cuba; his mother Sara Prado was a school teacher, his father Pablo Pérez a journalist at El Heraldo de Cuba. He studied classical piano in his early childhood, and later played organ and piano in local clubs.
For a time, he was pianist and arranger for the Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s best-known musical group. He also worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s. He was nicknamed “El Cara de Foca” (“Seal Face”) by his peers at the time.
In 1949 he moved to Mexico to form his own band and record for RCA Victor. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban danzón. Perez’s mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong saxophone counterpoints, and most of all, Pérez’s trademark grunts (he actually says “¡Dilo! (“Say it!”) in many of the perceived grunts).
In 1950 arranger Sonny Burke heard “Qué rico el mambo” while on vacation in Mexico and recorded it back in the United States as “Mambo Jambo”. The single was a hit, which caused Pérez to launch a US tour. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs and he began recording US releases for RCA Victor.
His popularity in the United States matched the peak of the first wave of interest in Latin music outside the Latino communities during the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. He also performed in films in the United States and Europe, as well as in Mexican cinema (Rumberas film), always with his trademark goatee and turtle-neck sweaters and vests.
With the end of the 1950s, his success waned, and the years gave way to new rhythms, such as rock and roll and then pop music. His association with RCA Victor ended in the 1960s, and his recorded output was mainly limited to smaller labels and recycled Latin-style anthologies.
In the early 1970s Pérez permanently returned to his apartment off Mexico City’s grand Paseo de la Reforma to live with his wife and two children, son Dámaso Pérez Salinas (known as Pérez Prado, Jr.) and daughter María Engracia. His career in Latin America was still strong. He toured and continued to record material released in Mexico, South America, and Japan.
He was revered as one of the reigning giants of the music industry and was a regular performer on Mexican television. In Japan, a live concert recording of his 1973 tour was released on LP in an early 4-channel format known as Quadraphonic.
In 1981 Pérez was featured in a musical revue entitled Sun, which enjoyed a long run in the Mexican capital. In 1983 his brother Pantaleón Pérez Prado, a musician who was also known professionally as Pérez Prado, died, and the press erroneously reported Dámaso’s death.
His last United States appearance was in Hollywood on September 12, 1987, when he played to a packed house. This was also the year of his last recording. Persistent ill health plagued him for the next two years, and he died of a stroke in Mexico City on September 14, 1989, aged 72.