About The Group
An act that author Charles K. Wolfe wrote that he had "no information" but appeared once in the midst of the Opry schedule on Feburary 6, 1937.
Research into old publications via the internet provides some answers about this group.
This was an orchestra headed by Don Alberto who studied the violin in Buenos Aires and Paris, toured South America and eventually came to the United States to record for the Victor company. He worked the Keith vaudeville circuit with his orchestra and conducted for famous dancers.
The manager of the El Chico night spot was Benito Collada was said to have objected to the applause by the visible audience on the weekly live broadcast over NBC. Don Alberto would warn those in attendance not to applaud. Collada was quoted, "I believe that radio listensers resent having other persons see what they can only hear, the applause makes them envious, thus spoiling their enjoyment of the broadcast."
A 1936 article in Billboard provides some details in a review of the show at El Chico in New York. The reviewer states "New fall show here is a peach. Retaining its lead as the class Spanish atmospheric club in town."
The 'review' or 'revue' (research has shown that both spellings are associated with this group of performers) was a mixture of various performers.
Perhaps giving a hint of who might be on the broadcast aired over WSM on February 6, 1937, the New York Daily News told readers that the famed flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya had joined the El Chico revue show heard over WEAF (NBC) in its January 28 edition.
A 1973 obituary for Celestino Bianchi who played the accordion for Don Alberto's orchestra. He was also an arranger for the group. The obituary stated that the Don Alberto orchestra was a relief band for the Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman orchestras at many venues during the big band era. It also stated that Mr. Bianchi made recordings and appeared in several movies with the Don Alberto orchestra.
Research found Don Alberto in a couple of movies in the late 1920's. One was Don Alberto y Su Orquesta Argentina. The cast included Don Alberto (piano), Celestino Bianchi (accordion), Epaim Suarez (violin) and Genaro Veiga (guitar, vocals). The movie was released in April of 1929. In the book "The First Hollywood Sound Shorts 1926-1931", provides details such as it is Vitaphone 793 on one reel. The songs included 'Alma Torera' and 'Pero ei Gueresto'.
He also appeared in another Vitaphone short (number 848), one reel, released in July 1929 - Carolina Segrera, the Cuban Nightingale, with Don Alberto and His Argentines. The cast included Carolina Segrera, vocalist, Don Alberto (piano), Celestino Bianchi (accordion), Epaim Suarez (violin), Genaro Veiga (guitar). The musical numbers included Havanera Tu, El Malero and Mi Viejo Amor.
In 1946, the New York Daily News reported that Don did the Spanish voice of Barry Fitzgerald in a Latin-American version of "Going My Way".
An article in the 1935 Radio Personalities magazine indicated that his 'delightful singing and tango music' had been heard at such venues as the Central Park Casino, the Lido Club, El Morocco, El Chico and the Pre-Cat Cafe.
The "El Chico Spanish Review (Revue)" was an NBC radio network staple for several years in the 1930s.
The owner / manager of El Chico was Benito Collada. Research indicates he opened it in 1925. He was born in Spain and his restaurant was also a place where patrons could enjoy the entertainment and dancing as well. He tried to make it an authentic Spanish restaurant. The furniture - tables and chairs - were said to be imported from Spain.
Even art lovers would visit his place just to see the many mosaics that adorned the walls.
Todd Wright told readers of his visit to El Chico in one of a series of reviews of dancing spots in the city. He wrote that the most fascinating thing at El Chico was the food. Each menu item were specially prepared and "served with great ceremony."
Other articles have noted that Benito was known to visit Spain to find new talents for the 'revue' that his place was known for.
Even the dances that patrons could watch were authentic Spanish numbers. One was the Paso Doble and found favor with the audiences. Another Spanish dance was the Chotis. But the club did not feature the Rumba because his patrons viewed it as a 'low dance' or the tango.
Mr. Wright noted that the cover charge was reasonable and that it was not expensive for customers to spend an evening of dining and dancing.
Research also found a humorous tidbit from 1934. Restaurant owners had been trying to break an old prohibition custom of customers taking their own liquor from place to place. But clubs and restaurants tried to break this habit by starting to charge a corkage fee ($2.00 in 1934). The saw fewer and fewer patrons doing this. But along that subject, Benito Collada related an incident to Art Arthur for his "Reverting to Type" column.
It seemed that one evening a customer brought his own liquor and objected to the corkage charge. He made a long argument with Collada who insisted that he pay the fee. The patron continued to state adamantly he would not pay. But in the end, he did.
But Collada tried to be a good sport with the customer to ease the sting and made what was termed a 'very sportsmanlike gesture.' He told the customer, "Just to prove it wasn't the money but the principle of the thing. You toss a coin. If I lose, I'll return your $2.00. The customer tossed. And he lost. But he left the scene smiling.
Mr. Collada offered up a tip to restaurant diners in 1962. He was trying to get a point across to dinners that if they had two pieces of bread (and buttered as well), the patron has spoiled their appetite for the dinner. Brings to mind some restaurants that offer up their breadsticks or cheddar biscuits before a meal in this era.
Benito Collada closed El Chico on May 18, 1965, ending a 40 year run. He wrote a thank you and farewell note to Robert Sylvester of the Daily News explaining his reasons. One reason was taxes, not just sales taxes, but entertainment taxes. Then he cited the situation with the subways and increasing danger on the streets and the difficulty of getting a cab after midnight. He also cited growing labor issues with the employee union.
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