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"The Mambo King." Prado grew up in Cuba and worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s. In 1948, he moved to Mexico to form his own band and record for RCA. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban rhumba. Prado's mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong sax counterpoints, and most of all, Prado's trademark grunts. In 1950, arranger Sonny Burke heard "Que Rico Mambo" while on vacation in Mexico and recorded in back in the U.S. as "Mambo Jambo." The single was a hit and Prado decided to profit himself from the success and tour the U.S. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs and he began recording U.S. releases for RCA.
In 1954, a number of novelty mambos, including "Papa Loves to Mambo" were recorded by mainstream artists, spurring a wave of mambo dancing and recording. Prado was clearly the leader in this movement, but his greatest success came a year later. He recorded a French song he had first covered in 1951 on the soundtrack of the movie, "Underwater," and when it attracted some attention, RCA released it as a single. "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" reached #1 in the Top 40 charts and held the spot for 10 weeks. He followed this with Top 20 singles of "Anna" and "Skokiaan," but fell out of the charts for the next two years, although his albums continued to sell well.
For all his cheerful demeanor on stage, Prado was a ruthless taskmaster as a bandleader. Trombonist Milt Bernhart recalled an incident during the recording of "Voodoo Suite," a collaboration with arranger Shorty Rogers:
One of the movements involved a supposed street-fight in Havana - Carlos Vidal (conga drums) and another Cuban percussionist were to play the roles of the two participants in the rumble. After running the music down once or twice, one of them decided to really get into the spirit of the thing - he stripped down to his shorts!
In 1958, his own song, "Patricia," reached #1, and was later featured in the "scandalous" strip scene in Fellini's film, "La Dolce Vita." His last big hits in the early 1960s were "Guaglione" and "Patricia Twist."
After 1963, RCA stopped releasing Prado in the U.S. market. He returned to Mexico and continued to record and perform in Latin American countries until he retired in the early 1970s. Prado's brother, Panteleon Perez Prado, who moved to Europe in 1956, also ran a mambo band and was so infuriated with his younger brother's success that he even tried to sue in court to be declared as the superior bandleader.
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