Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ROS, Edmundo

(b Edmundo William Ros, 7 December 1910, Trinidad; d 21 October 2011) His mother a black Venezuelan, father named Ross was from Scotland. Bandleader, drummer, vocalist; popularizer of diluted Latin music in UK and Europe. The family moved to Caracas, Venezuela, when he was a child; he grew up listening to Cuban son, guajira and guaracha rhythms; during military service he played reeds in an army band for four years; played kettledrum in State Symphony Orchestra and became singer/percussionist with Sea Melody Orchestra, the official court orchestra (along with Noro Morales's) for Venezuelan dictator President Juan Vicente Gómez; received government music scholarship.

To UK June '37 to study classical music at London's Royal Academy of Music, but dropped out with a passion for popular music. He was just Eddie Ross to other musicians at first. He gigged as a jazz drummer at the Nest night club and recorded with Fats Waller in London in August 1938. He played percussion with Ciro Rimac's Rumbaland Muchachos in Paris. He worked with Afro-Cuban pianist/vocalist Don Marino Barreto's Cuban Orchestra at London's Embassy Club and made six sides with them for Decca April '39; Barreto's band was so successful that Ros was invited to organize his own group, and debuted with six-piece Rumba Band at the Cosmo Club in London's Wardour St in August 1940, and became a huge success. He initially strove to emulate the authentic Cuban sound; 'Los Hijos de Buda' from his first Parlophone date in April '41 became the best-selling record in England in June. He had wartime residencies at London's Coconut Grove in Regent Street, then at the elite Bagatelle Restaurant, where he networked with international High Society (the future Queen Elizabeth danced for the first time in public to Ros's music there); while at the Bagatelle he also worked for British Military Intelligence and as a volunteer fire watcher/bomb disposal officer. He was dropped by Parlophone in 1942 because they wanted to use scarce shellac for Victor Silvester records; Ros credited Silvester with advice to tone down the percussion and concentrate on popular melodies: 'a formula which brought him long-lasting success, at the cost of persuading the musically minded of two generations that Latin music was contentless and bland', wrote John Storm Roberts in 1979.
He quickly embraced the samba rhythm made popular by Carmen Miranda, covering her hit 'Tico-Tico' during his first session with Decca September 1944 (Ros remained with the label until he retired '75). The '46 departure of his pianist Roberto Inglez (Scottish-born Robert English) was a blow to Ros; he responded by becoming a hard-nosed businessman, eventually founding the Edmundo Ros Holding Company (which embraced a publishing company, dance school, club, artist agency, etc). Ros expanded his Rumba Band to a 16-piece Orchestra including five saxes (two tenors, two altos and baritone, with doubling on flutes and clarinets), four trumpets and a seven-piece rhythm section; 'The Wedding Samba' '49 sold three million copies world-wide and went top 20 USA (song written '40 in Yiddish; covered in USA by Carmen Miranda with the Andrews Sisters); when the mambo fad hit the UK early '50s, he recruited percussionists Ginger Johnson (from Sierra Leone) and Nat Akimbo (from Ghana). He acquired the Coconut Grove '51; after he named it Edmundo Ros' Dinner and Supper Club it attracted an exclusive clientele including members of British and European royalty; live BBC radio shows were broadcast overseas from the club '58-61; he closed it '65 after legalization of gambling caused a decline in business. He retired to Spain in 1975. One story is that he used pick-up musicians all over Britain on tour, a standard procedure, and that he quit when the musicians' union demanded that he put them all under contract. 

Albums included million-seller Rhythms Of The South '57, one of the earliest stereo LPs; TV shows included the ATV series Broadway Goes Latin '62 featuring guests such as Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco. He dramatically disbanded '75 after his seventh sell-out tour of Japan because he felt his leadership had been undermined by trade union organization in the band. He retired to his home 'El Escondite de Eros' ('Hideaway of Love') in Javéa, Spain, but came out to conduct and sing with BBC Big Band at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 8 January 1994 (broadcast by BBC Radio 2), made a CD for the Japanese market April '95. Recommended collections Edmundo Ros And His Rumba Band 1939-1941 '92 and Tropical Magic Vol. 2/1942-1944 '95 on Harlequin compile his recordings with Barreto and his own band's Parlophone and Decca sides '41-4; also Cuban Love Song Vol. 3/1945 '96 on Harlequin. Elizabeth II made him an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) in the New Years' Honours List in 2000.

Some original members of Ros's Rumba Band led their own bands: Inglez organized a band '46 for a lengthy residency at London's Savoy hotel, recorded for Parlophone and was contracted to tour Brazil, where he decided to settle. Spanish-born co-lead vocalist Santiago López formed his own band; recorded for Harmony, Oriole and HMV; retired to Gibraltar '60s. Guitarist Frank Deniz teamed up with brothers Joe (guitar) and Lawrie (rhythm guitar/percussion) to found Hermanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band ('Cuban' was a misnomer as their orientation was more Brazilian); had residencies at London's Grosvenor House Hotel, Dominion Cinema and Talk of the Town night club; recorded on Melodisc and Columbia.