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The Life and Music of Benny More: Wildman of Rhythm by John Radanovich

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Until many read John Radanovich’s biography of Benny More, the late Cuban superstar, they will begin to understand the importance of African strains to jazz music and most of the other music forms that dominate the Americas. It is all here.

You will learn of three sacred places of music in the world in The Life and Music of Benny More: Brazil, Louisiana (New Orleans) and, Cuba. Cuba, according to John Radanovich, is the most important, a fact lost in the cultural repression imposed on the island for 50 years now. The other fact lost is that musical tradition is mostly created and forged because of the African presence in the west via slavery, and the post-slavery period still in effect.

Politics and all, culture and all, this biography of Benny More, a man described as the greatest singer in the history of Cuba, is so on time. He is, outside of Cuba, known, but unknown, but to read this biography and believe it, he is the world, musically that is.

Benny More connects the dots: the “latin tinge” of jazz, mambo, big band, salsa, meringue, and, of course, the heart and soul of an island, into a statement of music, culture.

There is a story here that fits it altogether as well. It is crisp. A black boy is born into deep poverty in Cuba in a large disjointed family. He grows up like many on the island to embrace music and to feel free amidst poverty. His life is not so far removed from chattel

slavery and the racial hatred that drove a wicked economic system of forced labor and disenfranchisement. Out of this comes this wonderful music that is African and abhorred but loved and embraced by the people on the ground, at the bottom like More.

More is Cuba too: he makes it by struggling. He sells fruit from a vendor’s truck, cuts sugar cane, catches malaria and almost dies. He is a guitar player and singer by then and on his way to the city of Havana that holds his destiny. I suspect it must have been like going to New York.

Benny does it and like other musical pioneers who unleash or drive musical movements such as Buddy Bolden, Robert Johnson, Fats Waller, and later, Sam Cooke, he lives hard, and fast, and takes in his share of booze. He rises to the top then is taken.

Radanovich’s tale of Benny More, while short, is superb. The bio is so well written and ultimately so important if a movie is not in the works, I would be shocked. It does not matter anyway. Radanovich has explained music in the western hemisphere beautifully. Benny More’s life is the prism through which all music history must pass now. He is the missing link to the past, a giant of a figure alive and well again, at last.

Originally Published