Andy Russell (singer)

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Andy Russell
Portrait of Andy Russell, Eddie Condon's, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947 William P Gottlieb graphic.jpg
Andy Russell in 1947
Background information
Birth name Andrés Rábago [1]
Also known as

Andy Russell

Andrew [2]
El mago de los sueños
(The Dream Wizard)
Born (1919-09-16)September 16, 1919
Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California
Died April 16, 1992(1992-04-16) (aged 72)
Sun City, Arizona
Genres Traditional pop, Latin music, big band, swing, easy listening
Occupation(s)

Vocalist
Percussionist
Radio Host
Radio Actor and Singer
Television Singer
Motion Picture Actor and Singer
Television Variety Show Host

Nightclub Singer
Instruments Vocals, Drums
Years active 1934–1989
Labels Capitol, RCA Victor, Orfeon, Belter/Divusca [3]
Associated acts

Gus Arnheim Orchestra
Al Sack Orchestra
Paul Weston Orchestra
Vido Musso Orchestra
Alvino Rey Orchestra
The King Sisters
The Pied Pipers
Della Russell

Emily Cranz

Andy Russell (born Andrés Rábago;[1] September 16, 1919 – April 16, 1992) was an American popular vocalist, specializing in traditional pop and Latin music. He sold 8 million records in the 1940s to early 1950s [4] singing in a romantic, baritone voice in his trademark bilingual English and Spanish style.[5][6] He had chart-busters, such as "Bésame Mucho," “Amor,” “Magic is the Moonlight,” “What a Diff'rence a Day Made,” “Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside),” “Without You,” and "The Anniversary Waltz." He also performed on many radio programs, most notably Your Hit Parade, in several movies, and on television. Later, he traveled to Mexico where he was the star of radio, television, motion pictures, records, and nightclubs. He also toured extensively throughout Latin America, Cuba, Portugual, and Spain[6] and was the host of the television variety program El Show de Andy Russell in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 1956 to 1965, thus achieving international popularity and tremendous success during this period.[7] Upon returning to the United States, he continued to record music, at which point his 1967 single "It's Such a Pretty World Today" was number one for 9 weeks on Billboard Magazine's Easy Listening Chart.[8] During the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to perform, occasionally recording new records and making appearances on television. He received international accolades and awards, the most notable of which was being recognized as a trailblazer who not only introduced U.S. audiences to popular songs sung in English and Spanish but also influenced later performers--Hispanic and non-Hispanic—to sing bilingually, as well.[9][10][11] Regrettably, today, Russell has been virtually forgotten and his enormous contributions as the first American Latino, bilingual singer who performed on three continents[12] over a span of almost 50 years are hardly discussed by the media or scholars and much less credited by the performers who succeeded him.

Early life[edit]

Russell was born on September 16, 1919 (on Mexican Independence Day) as Andrés Rábago[1] in Boyle Heights, at the time, an ethnically integrated, middle-class neighborhood [13] in the eastern section of Los Angeles.[14] He was the second youngest of ten children (eight boys, two girls) [7] born to Mexican immigrant parents, Rafael Rábago and Vicenta (née Pérez).[15] His father was from the Mexican state of Durango and his mother from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. His father was employed as an extra by Hollywood studios, where he earned considerable wages, while his mother was a housewife, who was dedicated to her children.[7]

Russell's favorite singer as a child, and later singing model,[14] was Dick Powell.

As a child, he loved listening to American popular music and Big Band, such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey. One of his earliest memories was hiding behind the family radio and pretending to be his favorite singer, Dick Powell.[5] He also idolized crooners Bing Crosby[16] and Frank Sinatra. His enthusiasm was summed up in this article from 1945: "As a kid on Los Angeles' east side, Andy went wild over popular music. He knew all the hit tunes and was the neighborhood authority on the style and record of every name band leader in the country." [17]

He grew up in a bilingual home,[18] hearing and talking Spanish with his parents, while talking in English with his brothers and sisters, and with people outside of the home. In addition, as is the case with most families, there appeared to have been a generational and cultural gap between the American-born Russell and his Mexican-born parents. One way in which this dynamic manifested itself was along the intersection of language and music: While he and his brothers and sisters enjoyed listening to American music, his parents enjoyed listening to Mexican music, in particular, mariachi.

At this young and impressionable age, Russell did not musically understand the music of Mexico and preferred to listen to Big Band, which was the all the rage among his friends. Also, since his parents never learned practical English, they spoke to him only in Spanish, which made it difficult for both sides to communicate with each other.

For his part, Russell felt that his command of the Spanish language, at the time, was "very bad" and felt ashamed about speaking Spanish, to the point of asking his parents to speak to him in English.[7] In truth, Russell's experience is quite understandable, since he was born and educated in Los Angeles. He was taught English in school, his peer groups spoke to him in English, and the big band music he loved to listen to was in English.

Since Russell had neither been born nor raised in Mexico, and had never formally studied Spanish, one can sympathize with his awkward situation at such a young age. However, despite these growing pains, Russell tenaciously maintained his Spanish language and "pride in his 100% Mexican ethnicity,"[18] even as he would later live, perform, and interact with diverse peoples in countries all over the world.

At any rate, Russell was determined to follow in the footsteps of his idols. In 1935, as a 15-year-old student in junior high school, he began his career as an up-and-coming teenage idol by singing with a local swing band headed by don Ramón Cruz.[5] This band was composed mainly of Mexican and Mexican-American musicians and played primarily in East Los Angeles.[19] He also sang with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and other groups, until one day he was told that he also would have to play an instrument to stay with the band. Russell recalled wistfully how he dealt with this curious dilemma:

Andy Russell performs a drum solo in the film The Stork Club (1945).

Russell also took drum lessons for 50 cents a lesson at the Phillips Music Company on Brooklyn Avenue (now Avenida César Chávez) in Boyle Heights. This neighborhood music store was owned by William Phillips, a Jewish-American Navy veteran, drummer, and musician.[20] In truth, it "was more than a music store or a record shop; it was a space for democracy where diverse urban communities gathered to explore cultural traditions and invent contemporary musical languages."[21]

As such, this was one of the places where Russell not only began to learn to keep time but also train his ear in the Latin American beats and rhythms (bolero, conga, mambo, etc.) which were an essential part of the Latin American standards he would later sing so masterfully. After taking his lessons, Russell would also practice in the basement of his house, and "after only three weeks of practice...he became a proficient, self-taught drummer."[18]

On an interesting side-note, Stella Cruz, the sister of bandleader don Ramón Cruz, recalled in a YouTube video that Russell, as a child, had contracted polio. He had some paralysis on his left arm and leg. When this came to the attention of don Ramón Cruz, he taught Russell to play the bass drum in order to strengthen those muscles. This was probably Russell's initial exposure to the instrument.[22]

Then, Russell attended Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, where he continued his musical education. He was a member of the ROTC marching band, the jazz band, and the high school symphony orchestra. He played at high school football games, parades, and dances. And under the instruction of Mr. Harry Gruppengetter, the music teacher, he learned to read music.[17] [19] He also enjoyed playing handball and boxing.[23]

Russell recalled that his high school experience was positive, and that he did not feel discrimination: "In those days, I was just one of the guys. We had Russian people, we had Jewish kids, we had Mexican kids, we had the blacks, we never noticed things like that... I'm a very cocky little Mexican kid from the East Side, and I never had those feelings. I always feel that it's up to the person."[7] Thus, in 1939 when Russell discovered that Gus Arnheim, a popular and influential band leader, was looking for a drummer, he left high school the summer before his senior year to try and join his band.[5]

New Singing Style and Name[edit]

Gus Arnheim Orchestra, Cocoanut Grove at Ambassador Hotel, 1932

Gus Arnheim and his orchestra had been playing the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles since the late 1920s, and had employed such singers as Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo, and Woody Herman.[10] Russell auditioned for Arnheim and got the job not only as a drummer but as a vocalist, too. However, since he was underage and could not tour out of state, Arnheim adopted him and became his legal guardian.[14][24] In addition, since he thought it was a good gimmick that made good business sense, Arnheim suggested that Russell sing bilingually in English and Spanish. Russell was hesitant, stating "No, Gus, my Spanish is very bad; I'm embarrassed."[24] Arnheim finally convinced the youngster by saying "Do something different and people will notice." [9][24] Russell agreed.

Now, it is important to note that Arnheim would not have asked Russell to sing in Spanish if he knew the young man was not capable of doing so; he just lacked confidence and needed some encouragement. As a matter of fact, "Russell indeed had a rare talent for his time. He had the ability to speak impeccable English and Spanish...[which would allow him] to distinguish himself as a vocalist."[18] It would have done little good for his career if Russell were not fluent in English, not a talented singer and percussionist, not industrious and dedicated to his craft, or not completely in love with the sound of big band music. Speaking Spanish, although a key component of his cultural heritage, was also another tool in his arsenal that he employed in his climb up the ladder of success. In order to achieve the spectacular success that he did, Russell had to make use of all his talent, skills, and attributes.

Andy Russell sings bilingually in Breakfast in Hollywood (1946).

Now on tour with the band, Russell noticed that when he played solo on the drums or sang bilingually, the couples in the audience would stop dancing and approach the bandstand to get a better look at the handsome vocalist who was singing in a different language.[25] As audiences began to acknowledge and accept him, Russell must have felt validation in his Mexican-American identity, as his success was based not only on his talent and appearance but on his ability to draw elements from both his cultures. It was at a show at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee that Arnheim saw that he was getting extremely popular. But in order for him to be even more successful, Arnheim realized that it would be necessary for Russell to change his name.

Russell recalled the conversation with Arnheim after the show:

Russell has noted that during that era many performers of all colors and creeds changed their original names and adopted stage names in order to enter the entertainment industry. The case has often been made that Russell's light-skin and European features were the determining factor in opening doors to the recording industry (Avant-Mier, 59; Macias, 125) that otherwise shut out Latinos whose appearance was tan or dark-complexioned (for instance, Chicano musician and singer Lalo Guerrero). It is a valid point considering that racism was prevalent in society at the time; however, one must take note that there were also examples of dark-skinned Mexican-Americans who were successful and who did not anglicize their names: actors Anthony Quinn, Pedro Gónzalez Gónzalez, and, to a certain extent, Ritchie Valens. Other dark-complexioned recording artists who were extremely popular during the period were the Cuban singer Celia Cruz and musician Pérez Prado. It is a grey area to be sure, but a lot can be said about the merits of talent, hard work, perseverance, networking, and luck.

So, after the change in singing style and name, Russell continued to perform as vocalist and drummer with such bands as Johnny Richards, Sonny Dunham, Alvino Rey, and Vido Musso.[18] Some of the venues in the Los Angeles area where he played were the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, the old Follies Theater on Main St.,[26] the Santa Monica Pier [27] and at Joe Zucca's Show Case in Hermosa Beach, CA.[18]

Career Begins[edit]

1944 was a banner year for Russell. Such success was unprecedented for a "kid from East Los Angeles," albeit a very talented, hard-working, and cocky kid.

He was a part of the era when popular singers, or crooners, were beginning to take the spotlight away from the bands. Crooners such as himself, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, and Perry Como[26] each had his own unique style.

As the youngest of all the crooners in this era, Russell drew his style from those who had come before, especially Dick Haymes. He was the "typical crooner, in the Sinatra style, who extended and drew out the words, while adding delightful shades and nuances to the phrases in his songs... One cannot consider him a bolero singer in the classic sense (of Latin America singers), but, without a doubt, his execution of romantic songs had some of the best and most sincere phrasing." [6]

Russell's 4 top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1944 sold millions of records, and opened the door for touring around the country and appearances on radio programs, motion pictures, and television.

Records[edit]

Andy Russell, Capitol Records, 1946

Lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer asked Russell to cut a record for his fledgling Capitol Records.[28][29] Russell narrowed his choices down to 3 songs. He then chose the bolero "Bésame Mucho,"[30] music and Spanish lyric by Mexican female composer Consuelo Velázquez. American composer Sunny Skylar wrote the English lyric. Russell sang "Bésame Mucho" bilingually, "the first vocalist to offer Spanish and English treatments to popular songs"[11] and, in doing so, "displaying his Latin background."[14]

Unfortunately, the 1942–44 musicians' strike threatened to wreck Russell's career before it had even begun. Union President James Petrillo had set the date of July 31 where no union musician could record for any record company. This caused record producers to scramble to get vocalists and musicians into recording studios to get the recordings done before the deadline. Luckily, Russell was able to do without any problems. Mercer paid him "$150 for both sides of his first record."[18]

Thus, Russell's first charted hit became the smash "Bésame Mucho" which reached #10 on the Billboard's Hot 100 Chart in the United States. It sold over one-million copies.[5] Velázquez heaped huge praise on Russell by stating that the worldwide success of "Bésame Mucho," which would become the most recorded Mexican song in history,[31] effectively began with his rendition and recording of the song.[6] "Its huge success prompted legendary manager George 'Bullets' Durgom to urge Russell to give up the drums and concentrate on a solo singing career."[18]

That same year he also had his biggest hit, which became another signature tune "Amor," music by Mexican composer Gabriel Ruíz and Spanish lyric by Mexican lyricist Ricardo López Méndez with English lyric by Sunny Skylar. It reached #2 and was taken from the musical film Broadway Rhythm. The flip side of this record was "The Day After Forever."

Russell had two more hits that year: "What a Diff'rence a Day Made," original title "Cuando vuelva a tu lado" (When I Return to Your Side), music and Spanish lyric by Mexican female composer María Grever with English lyric by American lyricist Stanley Adams. It reached #15 and was paired with "Don't You Notice Anything New?" The other hit was "I Dream of You" which reached #5 and was paired with "Magic is the Moonlight," original music and Spanish lyric by María Grever with English lyric by Charles Pasquale, taken from the Esther Williams musical film Bathing Beauties.

By the end of 1944, the charismatic Russell was declared by the Mutual Broadcasting System to be the "idol of the crew-cut and bobby-sox set, and one of the nation's top-ranking romantic balladeers."[32]

In 1946, he had another big hit with "I Can't Begin to Tell You" which reached #7, and was from the film The Dolly Sisters. The next big hit came later in 1946: a two-sided hit with "Laughing on the Outside" which reached #4, and "They Say It's Wonderful" which reached #10, (from the Broadway show Annie Get Your Gun). His next hit, "Pretending" which reached #10 was backed with "Who Do You Love?" His final chart-toppers of the 1940s were in 1947: "Anniversary Song" which reached #4, and "I'll Close My Eyes" which reached #15.[33]

All in all, Russell had "an impressive twelve records breaking into the charts between April 1944 and September 1948, a phenomenal eight of them in the top ten. He was not only an established star of the Era, but recognized as a unique contributor as well with his bilingual singing style that opened up the international market for Capitol."[18] As a matter of fact, Glenn Wallich, a pioneer in the record industry for his attention to foreign markets, and co-founder of Capitol Records made sure that Russell's records were distributed throughout Latin America,[28] which meant huge sales for Capitol and ever-growing popularity for Russell.

Golden Age of Radio[edit]

The Andy Russell Show on NBC radio in 1944.

By 1944, he had become a well enough regarded pop vocalist to be invited to perform on radio programs.

On November 9, he debuted on his own radio show on the "Blue" network, or NBC, called The Andy Russell Show, (click to listen on YouTube) which broadcast out of Hollywood, California. He was the host and featured vocalist. In addition, he would invite guests to appear on his program, such as Dinah Shore and Johnny Mercer.

On Sunday nights over CBS radio, Russell was also a featured vocalist on the Old Gold Show, which was the name of the cigarette company that sponsored the program.

Russell sings "Amor" on this audio clip from The Jackie Gleason - Les Treymane Show.

Next up was an invitation to appear as a vocalist on The Jackie Gleason - Les Treymane Show on NBC radio.[34] Unlike his eponymous show which was broadcast from Los Angeles, California, it was necessary for Russell to take the train out to the East Coast, as this show originated from New York. It was reported that during the trip, he got sick because he had never been on a train before.[35]

Also, in addition to duties as a vocalist, Russell played straight man to Jackie Gleason, the legendary comic and performer who would later be the star of the classic television program The Honeymooners. He would do this later in a motion picture with Groucho Marx, too.

With regard to his participation on the show, the Billboard 1944 Music Year Book stated that "the talented, handsome...young singer's commercial appeal [was] tremendous. Starting with one song, audience response demanded his current three singing spots."[36] Not only did he receive the approval of the audience, but he also was treated with respect by his colleagues and sponsors. For a Mexican-American at that time, the exposure and heights that Russell attained was simply unheard of.

1945 Press Photo of singer Andy Russell and comedienne Joan Davis

Later, from September 3, 1945 to May 27, 1946, Russell appeared on the CBS radio comedy show The Joan Davis Show (click to listen on YouTube) which originated out of New York City. This program aired on Monday nights from 8:30 - 8:55 p.m.[37] "Popular crooner Andy Russell served as both the variety anchor for The Joan Davis Show as well as Joanie's love interest in the situation comedy series...[He] delivered as expected to the swoons and cheers of his millions of female fans of the era."[38] In addition to singing, Russell also acted and played straight man to comedienne Joan Davis. Paul Weston and his Orchestra provided the music.

Andy Russell Promotional Radio Spot 1945

Finally, and most notably, starting on April 26, 1946, Russell began to appear as featured vocalist on the pop music radio program Your Hit Parade.[39] This popular program aired on Saturdays, 9:00-9:30 pm on NBC radio and was broadcast out of New York City.

He replaced Lawrence Tibbett, an opera singer, who had previously replaced Frank Sinatra.[40][41]

After 5 months in New York, he was so popular that Lucky Strike cigarettes, the sponsor of the show, agreed to pay for the show to be broadcast out of its Los Angeles studios in order to appease Russell who was homesick. The shows from Hollywood began on September 21, 1946.[42]

He stayed on the program for 2 seasons, which led to huge popularity for the singer.[5]

It was during this time that Russell had the incredible fortune of having 2 records in the Top Ten, while performing as a vocalist on Your Hit Parade. This meant he, as the original vocalist, would actually be able to sing his own songs on the program, an event which very rarely happened. His screaming, teenaged fans called themselves the "Russell Sprouts," of which there were 300 fan clubs throughout the United States.[5]

Personal Appearances[edit]

Andy Russell, personal appearance, 1944.

As he became more popular, Russell began making personal appearances in different venues in the country. His first personal appearance was on June 28, 1945 at the RKO Boston Theater[43] in Newark, New Jersey. Later, he appeared at the Paramount theater in New York, where he signed to perform for 2 weeks, and wound up staying for 5 weeks.[44] A review of Russell's performance was described like this: "His way of sliding into a husky chorus in Spanish--after going through the English version--has all the slick chicks swooning like crazy."[44]

An article in 1947 stated that Russell hoped "to play Mexico City this summer. Although of Mexican origin, he has never been there."[45]

Hollywood[edit]

Andy Russell and Carmen Miranda in Copacabana (1947)

Russell was then invited to Hollywood to screen-test for motion pictures. In 1945, he appeared in the film The Stork Club. In 1946, he appeared in the film Breakfast In Hollywood. Then, he sang "Without You"/"Tres Palabras" on the soundtrack of the Walt Disney animated feature Make Mine Music during the "Ballad in Blue" section illustrating the end of a relationship using raindrops, flower petals, and a love letter."[46] Then, he appeared in the film Copacabana with Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda the next year in 1947.[47]

On March 13, 1947, he was a performer in the 19th Academy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA, as he sang one of the songs nominated for the Oscar that year.[48]

Television[edit]

Later, Russell began to appear in the new medium of television in the early 1950s on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar on NBC, but continued to record, though less frequently. From December 1950 to June 1951, he appeared with his wife on the ABC TV show Andy and Della Russell.[49] (click to watch on YouTube) "It was a brief but pleasant musical interlude, which originated live from New York [from 7:00 to 7:05] every weeknight."[50] They also had an act that they would perform together in nightclubs. Finally, they appeared together in the 1953 musical short, House Party.[51]

End of Big Band Era[edit]

By 1952, Russell's hits had stopped coming, as the big band era was coming to a close. Capitol Records lost interest in him as a hit-making pop star, especially, as the rock 'n roll age was beginning to dawn, Capitol (like the other major labels) began to look on with negative feeling.

Also, in November, 1953, after returning from a trip to Mexico City, Russell announced to his wife Della that he no longer loved her, wanted a divorce, and that he would go live in Mexico City without her.[52] The couple was separated for a month, at which point, Della initiated divorce proceedings. Russell did not contest.[53]

After that, his private life became fodder for the gossip columns as he experienced a public backlash and negative publicity due to the shocking news of the couple's pending divorce. Many were angry and upset at this turn of events, as the Russells had been viewed as the "perfect Hollywood couple." [2][52] They received hate-mail, and Russell was pressured by the Hollywood community and Roman Catholic Church clergy not to proceed with the divorce because it would cause "a public scandal."[54]

Mexico, Latin America, and Europe[edit]

Mexico[edit]

Hotel Regis, Mexico City, 1940's

After the divorce was finalized in February, 1954, Russell was left virtually penniless, despondent, and out-of-work.[55] His friend Charlie Skypsy, wealthy liquor distributor and later co-owner of the popular Mexican restaurant chains, Carlos' n Charlie's and Señor Frog's, advised Russell to return to Mexico.

When he arrived in Mexico, Russell was astounded to find thousands of people greeting him at the airport.[56] "He had no idea he was so popular in the Spanish-speaking world."[28] Skypsy put him up in the swanky and historic Hotel Regis (Spanish) in Mexico City. There, Russell found a confidante in actress Ariadne Welter, Skypsy's ex-wife and sister of actress Linda Christian.[57][58]

In due time, Russell met Carcho Peralta, the owner of the hotel, and he talked to him about his unfortunate situation. In response, Peralta offered him the opportunity to sing at the hotel's nightclub, the Capri Room. Russell accepted. His show had a great response from the audience, and he began touring other night club venues in Mexico with similar success.

His fortunes took a definite turn for the better when his friend Carlos Lopez Rangel, a newspaper editor and host of several radio programs, decided to interview him and tell his story to the public over the course of several programs, like a soap opera.[55] The radio show had a tremendous impact and achieved high ratings, so much so, that it produced an outpouring of good will and sympathy for Russell from the Mexican public.

Russell realized at this point in time that he was still quite popular in Mexico, so he made Mexico City his home base, while he performed for his fans. Also, the idea of being a Mexican singer was intriguing to him.[6] In short order, he was offered a recording contract with RCA Victor Records of Mexico. One of the highlights of this period was his recording of "Contigo en la distancia" ("With You in the Distance"), which is considered one of the best versions of this classic Cuban composition by César Portillo de la Luz.[6] Also, in some of these records, he sang bilingually, as he had done at Capitol Records in the U.S. These records were distributed throughout South America and Spain, although there was a general belief that the Spanish-speaking countries preferred to hear Russell sing in Spanish and not in English.

In addition, he signed a deal to do 7 motion pictures and began appearing on the top TV programs The Colgate Comedy Hour and the Mexican Kraft Music Hall.[26]

Furthermore, as long as he remained a resident of Mexico for at least 10 months out of the year, he paid a very small income tax.[59]

Russell recalled this tumultuous yet rewarding phase of his life:

Although Russell was fluent in Spanish, he was embarrassed about the fact that his Spanish did not match the fluency of a native speaker because, according to him, it was "east-side." Thus, in order to prepare for his film roles, he gathered with his friends, who helped him with his pronunciation and to speak properly.[56]

1954 Press Photo Andy Russell and Bride Velia Sanchez Belmont in Mexico

Soon, not only was he fully recovered from the woes which had forced him to leave the United States, but he had actually "found his roots in Mexico... Encouraged by the success that he attained, he decided to remain there."[56] And, to top it all off, on July 10, 1954, he married Velia Sánchez Belmont, the daughter of Mexico's former ambassador to Holland.[60] The reception and banquet was held at the Paolo, the ballroom at the Hotel Regis.[55]

By November 1956, he was making $7,000 a week (a far cry from the $2,500 a year he earned in 1940, beating the skins as a drummer).[61]

He was a Latin-American star of films, had his own TV show, a radio program, and would make trips abroad to perform in other countries, including Canada and the United States.[62] Also, this year his son Andy Roberto Russell Sánchez was born.

Mexican Films[edit]

Unlike the American movies he participated in, Russell was the bona fide star of the pictures he made in Mexico. He wound up making only 5 films. These movies were of the light-hearted, comedic, and musical-variety kind, where he had a fair amount of dialogue and singing duties to perform. Since they were being marketed not just for Mexico and Latino communities in the United States, but for all of Latin America and Spain, Russell was paired up with a diverse cast of Latin American movie stars, along with established and popular Mexican actors like Evangelina Elizondo, who appeared with him in three of his motion pictures.

In these Mexican productions, Russell's roles were spoken in Spanish and peppered with some English phrases; in contrast, the roles in his American movies were spoken only in English; however, he sang bilingually in both.

His film debut in Mexico was ¡Qué bravas son las costeñas! (Coastal women are so temperamental!) (1955), directed by Roberto Rodríguez and co-starred Cuban actress María Antonieta Pons and Mexican actors Joaquín Cordero and Evangelina Elizondo. Filming began on August 16, 1954 in Churubusco Studios in Mexico City and on location in Acapulco. It premiered on June 2, 1955 at the Olympia cinema, where it played for 3 weeks.[63]

In 1956, he starred in three movies: Mi canción eres tú (You are my Song) directed again by Roberto Rodríguez and co-starring Mexican actress and singer Evangelina Elizondo. Filming began on April 1, 1955 in the Churubusco Studios, and the premiere was March 28, 1956 at the Orfeón cinema, where it played for 2 weeks.[64]

His next film was his most popular: ¡Viva la juventud! (Hurrah for the Young People!) which was directed by Fernando Cortés and co-starred Adalberto Martínez "Resortes," María Victoria, and Yolanda Varela. Filming began on October 31, 1955 in the Tepeyac Studios, and the premiere was May 15, 1956 at the Orfeón cinema, where it played for 8 weeks.[65]

Primavera en el corazón (Springtime in the Heart) was his last collaboration with director Roberto Rodríguez and co-starred Brazilian/Italian actress Irasema Dilián and Spanish actor Enrique Rambal. Filming began on June 23, 1955, and the premiere was September 20, 1956 at the Alameda cinema, where it played for 2 weeks. This film was noteworthy for being in Eastmancolor and the first Mexican movie in Cinemascope.[66]

His fifth and last Mexican film was Vístete, Cristina (Get dressed, Cristina) directed by Miguel Morayta with Venezuelan actress Rosita Arenas. Filming began on May 5, 1958 in Azteca studios, and the premiere was April 23, 1959 at the Olimpia theater, where it played for 2 weeks.[67]

Criticism[edit]

An interesting side-note is that although Russell may have sounded fluent in Spanish when he sang to American audiences, Mexicans, on the other hand, could discern a peculiar accent that was not of a native speaker (as noted previously, Russell was born in Los Angeles).

To accentuate this "foreigness", in many of the motion pictures, his characters exhibit baffling stereotypical American behavior and mannerisms (despite Russell being Mexican-American). He is invariably and arbitrarily, it seems, labeled a "pocho," an insulting and derogatory term for a person of Mexican heritage who is born in United States and takes on American customs and speaks English but does not know his Mexican culture and speaks Spanish poorly, or mixes it with English (Spanglish).

Before the 1960s, there was very little understanding, appreciation, or pride in the concept of being a Mexican-American or Chicano.

In addition, Russell was criticized for modifying the lyrics, tempo and/or melody of traditional Latin American standards, for example, his jazzy, up-tempo renditions of "Perfidia" and "Cuando vuelva a tu lado" of the mid-1950s. He had already felt somewhat constrained when performing before Mexican audiences, as they often did not appreciate the changes or updates he would make to traditional songs.

In general, Mexicans, and Latin Americans, preferred that Russell sing to them in Spanish and respect the traditional forms of music. If he were performing before a Mexican audience, he could not use special material because they might mock him by saying, "He's getting fancy."[11] He also felt negative responses when he sang in English.[54] Of course, this reaction was not always uniform, nor was it the case in all Latin American countries.

Yet, despite this resistance and conservative leanings, Russell could observe that by the early to mid-1960s, Mexican musicians and the public were opening up and being receptive to combining musical styles as he himself had already done in the 1940s and 1950s.

He addressed this issue in a 1967 interview with Billboard magazine:

Thus, although Russell received some criticism for his bilingual ballads and mixing of American and Latin American musical rhythms, he can also be considered to have been a musical pioneer in Mexico, due to the fact that his versatility influenced the next generation of Mexican rockers to also combine musical genres.

Argentina[edit]

Publicity photo from El Show de Andy Russell.

From 1956 to 1965, Russell traveled back-and-forth from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he had a successful television variety show called El Show de Andy Russell on channel 7. The show was produced and broadcast during the summer months over the course of 13 weeks.[68]

Later in 1958, the name of the show was changed to El Show de IKA (sometimes billed as Desfile de Éxitos IKA) [69] when Argentina's largest automaker, Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA)[70] became the sponsor in a bid to sell more automobiles. Soft-drink manufacturer Pepsi Cola would also become a sponsor.

At a cost of more than 3,000,000 pesos,[71] it was the most expensive TV show produced in that country, and the first to use cameras mounted high above the stage[70] to capture exceptional visual effects.[72]

The unprecedented scale of the show became apparent as a Jeep was driven onto the stage during every performance, along with the ballet troupe of Eber and Nélida Lobato, a 50-piece orchestra conducted by Angel Gatti, and the Fanny Day choir, all in support of Russell.[70][73] In compensation for his hosting and singing duties, Russell, for his part, received an unspecified, but princely sum.[71]

Without a doubt, this program set a new standard in a variety show that incorporated musical entertainment, comedy, and visual flair.[69]

Russell was described as being "a professional who was conscientious and diligent, and very American... The show was a smash hit. We would rehearse every day. He was tireless."[69]

Other Latin American Countries[edit]

He also made appearances in other Latin American countries, for instance, in Caracas, Venezuela on the show Renny Presenta with Renny Ottolina (1964). In this clip, Russell and Ottolina sing the song "Manhattan" together in English and converse in Spanish before a live audience.

Spain[edit]

Andy Russell Bahia de Palma (Elke Sommer) by Belter 1962

In 1962, Russell was signed to a recording contract by Belter Records of Spain. The deal was that he would record the songs in Orfeon of Mexico, and the discs would be manufactured and released in Spain. He recorded several albums in Spanish, which were primarily ballads and up-tempo swing numbers backed up by a full orchestra band conducted by Chico O'Farrell.

He also recorded two songs taken from popular Spanish movies of the time: "Bahía de Palma" (1962) and "Sol de Verano" (1963). The former featured sex symbol Elke Sommer wearing a bikini, the first time a woman was shown wearing a bikini in a Spanish movie.

Return to the United States[edit]

Andy Russell in 1966

After being based in Mexico City for the past 11 years and performing in Latin America, Russell "felt that he was losing his professional identity and also being subtly pressured into becoming a citizen of Mexico."[54] Moreover, he believed that "you haven't got the freedom in Mexico that you've got here [in U.S.A.]. You wouldn't dare say anything against the government of Mexico, or you're found in an alley the next day, or you're thrown out of the country. You haven't got that freedom. In this country you can do everything you want; in fact, a little too much [laughs], you know?"[74]

He moved back to the United States in 1966 and went back to Capitol, recording the singles "Longin'" and "Enamorado" ("In Love"), but neither single charted on Billboard.[75]

His comeback show took place at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.[26]

Russell's comeback album in the U.S. was "More Amor!" (Capitol Records, 1967), a collection of English and bilingual English/Spanish songs. Again, no song from this album entered the Billboard charts.

In 1967, his next album for Capitol was called "...Such a Pretty World Today" and it produced a #1 single called "It's Such a Pretty World Today" that stayed on top of Billboard's Easy Listening Chart for 9 weeks. His next single from the same year "I'm Still Not Through Missing You" also cracked the Top Ten. He also made some LP's for the Argentine market that were well received. That year, he married his fourth wife, Ginny Pace, a talk show hostess and former Mrs. Houston.

In 1972, he recorded a Spanish cover of Speak Softly, Love," the love theme from the movie, The Godfather on the Mexican Orfeon label.

In 1973, he recorded the "International/ Internacional" LP for the Discos Latin International label, which included his Spanish cover version of Albert Hammond's "It Never Rains in Southern California" called "Nunca llueve en el Sur de California". In addition to the U.S., this album was sold in South America and Europe.[76]

After his return, he appeared on various television programs, such as "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," "The Today Show," and "The Merv Griffin Show."[68]

Andy Russell in the 1980s

During the 1980s, he continued to record and perform. He signed with Kim Records and released the LP "Yesterday, Now, and Forever" (1982). He was a frequent guest on television programs. In 1983, he could be seen on "Family Feud" with Richard Dawson. He performed on big band television specials for PBS to raise funds for public television. He was also interviewed on Spanish radio programs and heard on radio commercials in the Los Angeles area.[29][77]

From the time he returned to the United States in 1966 up until and throughout the 1980s, Russell continued to appear and perform in major American clubs, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, the Chateau Madrid in New York, the View o' the World supper club at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland, and in concerts before nostalgic swing audiences.[77]

As the years passed, although Russell could not fully recapture the fame he once had,[78] he kept busy performing for his fans and doing what he loved to do best: sing and entertain.

In 1989, he retired to live in Sun City, Arizona with his fifth wife Dora. He died in 1992.[9][26]

Personal life[edit]

Charities[edit]

Russell came up with the idea for the different vocalists and big band musicians to form teams and play softball games for charity. Frank Sinatra usually participated. (Softball Charity Game at 1:37 on YouTube)

Russell also sang in concerts which were broadcast over PBS that raised money for public broadcasting. (Andy Russell PBS Fundraising Special at YouTube)

Friendships[edit]

One of the greatest thrills in Russell's life was to not only sing with his idol Bing Crosby, but to actually consider him a close friend.

He was also close friends with the tenor Mario Lanza and his family. In 1950, Russell and his wife Della were asked to be godparents to Lanza's second daughter, Ellisa.[79]

Russell also performed with fellow Mexican-American actress, singer, and dancer Emily Cranz on this early 1960's Mexican television show (click here to watch on YouTube).

Marriages[edit]

Russell was married 5 times:

His first wife was Evelyn Evenwood (née Evelyn Marie Morse) (1919-1993). Date of marriage was June 30, 1940 in Los Angeles, CA.[80] Their divorce was finalized in 1945.[81]

His second wife was Della Russell (née Adelina [2] Naccarelli [82]) (1921-2006), a New York nightclub singer. They wed at the Little Church of the West, Las Vegas, Nevada on October 23, 1945.[83] She became his singing partner, and they performed their act together in nightclubs, on the ABC TV Show Andy and Della Russell in 1950-1951, and in a musical short called House Party (1953). Disagreements about whether or not to have a family was probably one of the reasons that led to their divorce on February 3, 1954.[84][85][52]

His third wife was Velia Sánchez Belmont (1929-2002), the daughter of Eduardo Sánchez Torres, former Mexican ambassador to Holland. They wed in Mexico City on July 10, 1954 and had a son, Andy Russell, Jr.[86] Divorce date is not known.

His fourth wife was Virginia "Ginny" Pace, a talk-show hostess and former Mrs. Houston. They married in 1967.[54] Divorce date was sometime in the late 1980s.

His fifth wife, with whom he was married up to the time of his death in 1992, was Doris E. Russell.[78] Marriage date was sometime in the late 1980s.

Death[edit]

Andy Russell grave marker with flowers.

After suffering a paralyzing stroke in February 1992 followed by another stroke on April 12, 1992, Russell died from complications at St. Joseph's Hospital in Sun City, Phoenix, Arizona on April 16, 1992 at the age of 72.[26][87] A public memorial service was held at St. Juliana's Catholic Church in Fullerton, California on April 22, 1992.[88] He was interred in Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton, California.

Russell was survived by his wife Doris; brothers Eddie and Tommy Russell; a sister, Vera Personett; a son Andy, Jr.; five stepchildren, Kay, Richard, Robin, Craig and Regan; and several grandchildren.[78][87]

On his grave marker is inscribed the song title of the biggest hit of his career: "Amor."

Awards and Legacy[edit]

Awards[edit]

  • The Pioneer of Argentine Television[7][68]
  • The Showman of the Americas (Argentina)[7][68]
  • Barcelonés Honorario (Spain)[89]
  • Mayorquín Honorario (Spain)[89]
  • Golden Microphone (1966)[90] - An award by Capitol Records for record sales.
  • El Águila de América (The Eagle of the Americas) (1972[68] or 1974[7]) - an honor awarded him by Mexican journalists,[7] members of the Mexico Newspaper Writers Guild (APERM).[68]
  • Award of Appreciation (1978) - for being the American who has done the most for Mexican music.[92]
  • Nosotros Golden Eagle Award (1979) (U.S.A.)[93]

Legacy[edit]

Russell started a new way of singing that combined English and Spanish, plus Latin and American rhythms,[9][11] that established him as being the original crossover artist.[94] With his romantic, baritone voice; professional, polished demeanor; and energetic showmanship, he introduced American audiences to Latin-American musical compositions with Spanish lyrics, while influencing later Latino and non-Latino recording artists to be open to the idea of singing bilingually, due to his previous success with the concept. To further illustrate this point, Russell's repertoire also included songs in French "Je Vous Aime" and in German "Danke Schoen."[95] From his peers in the music industry, he gained not only their professional respect but their love and admiration, as well.[18] Ultimately, he embodied North American, South American, and European musical styles and invited people from around the world to enjoy his unique and entertaining musical stylings. And it must be noted that Russell "with his interest in contemporary American music combined with his strong Mexican culture... always considered himself a mixture of both Mexican and American heritages."[18]

Today it is peculiar that his name is not remembered for being the first American performer to sing in English and Spanish and to further blend North and South American musical styles. Although he received awards and recognition in his day, his name and accomplishments appear not to have been passed down to later generations, nor was it seen fit to include his name in museums or have some type of monument or memorial in his hometown of Boyle Heights. No movie was ever made about his life, nor does he have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some Chicano scholars outright dismiss Russell simply because he was light-skinned, had European features, and Anglicized his name, instead of pouring over his myriad accomplishments as a Mexican-American, bilingual entertainer who performed in radio, television, motion pictures, and in venues all over the United States, Mexico, Latin America, and Europe.

Furthermore, later successful bilingual recording artists do not appear to know—much less credit—Russell for being one of the grand patriarchs of the Latin sound that is so prevalent today. And, yet, although he remains under-appreciated, his legacy is unquestionable. His enormous popularity from the early 1940s to the early 1960s influenced artists across three continents to be open to different musical influences and to the creation of hybrid musical forms that led to new perspectives, international understanding, and, ultimately, whole new categories of music, like Rock en Español and World Music.[96]

Singing Ambassador[edit]

The best way to sum up Andy Russell's life is to come around full circle and look at how he envisioned his life at the dawn of his career...as a "Singing Ambassador." These lines are from the inside cover of "Favoritos," Russell's first album for Capitol Records back in 1943:

Andy Russell, "Favoritos" LP, Capitol Records, 1943
Andy Russell, "Favoritos" LP (inside), Capitol Records, 1943
Andy Russell, "Favoritos" LP, (inside flap), Capitol Records, 1943

"Singing Ambassador... Andy Russell is more than a singer... blessed with a voice, a personality, and a sense of showmanship, which, combined, attract the envy of less-gifted performers. He has spectacularly catapulted into the foremost ranks of entertainers since 1943 and accomplished Herculean results in furthering the friendship of the North American peoples with those of Central and South America to the south.

"Andy is a handsome, young American, born and reared in Los Angeles, with a deep insight into the music of Latin America and with a flair for singing songs in both English and Spanish that has won him the plaudits of millions.

"Andy's selections for this collection of 'favoritos' include Just Friends, Let's Fall in Love, I'll See You in My Dreams, Imagination, María Elena, La Borrachita, Cielito Lindo, and the plaintive Adios, Muchachos. All eight selections are beloved the world over. 'They're my favorites, too,' Russell confesses.

"Capitol is privileged to present Andy Russell and this smart package of unforgettable music. His songs serve to establish him as a friendly ambassador without portfolio. Good neighbors of the south... Good neighbors of the north... are brought together by his virile, baritone voice. Saludos, amigos!"

In Popular Culture[edit]

Russell is mentioned in the Chicano seminal work The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1972) by Oscar Zeta Acosta on page 73:

"And unless we bathed and washed the dishes, we couldn't turn on the little brown radio to listen to The Whistler, The Shadow, or The Saturday Night Hit Parade with Andy Russell, the only Mexican I ever heard on the radio as a kid. We would sit and listen while we shined our shoes. During the commercials my mother would sing beautiful Mexican songs, which I then thought were corny, while she dried the dishes. 'When you grow up, you'll like this music, too,' my ma always prophesied. In the summer of '67, as a buffalo on the run, I still thought Mexican music was corny."[97]

In his 2004 short story Zona Rosa, 1965, Vicente Leñero envisions this fashionable neighborhood as a female energy "who is well versed in literature; she's chatted with Carlos Fuentes at Café Tirol; she's become a bullfighting buff after seeing Paco Camino leaving Hotel Presidente. She lives at Génova 20 to be neighbors with Emily Cranz and Andy Russell, or at the Londres Residential to be on first-name terms with Gloria Lasso.[98]

A couple of his songs have been part of the soundtracks of motion pictures: "Soy un Extraño" ("I am a Stranger") in the 1990 Spanish movie Boom-Boom and "Amor" in the 1997 American movie Lolita directed by Adrian Lyne.

Controversy about Racial and Ethnic Identity[edit]

What's in a Name?[edit]

In his 2010 book Rock the Nation: Latin/o Identities and the Latin Rock Diaspora, Professor Roberto Avant-Mier points out on pages 58–59 that Russell did not embrace his Mexican heritage and Spanish language as a youngster. He also indicates that at the urging of a bandleader [ Gus Arnheim ], Russell accepted to change his original name of "Andrés Rábago" to the anglicized "Andy Russell." He seems to imply, then, that Russell was, at best, negotiating his cultural identity, giving up his name in order to be afforded musical and economic opportunities in a racist society that were otherwise reserved for Anglo-American musicians.

He also seems to say that Russell acquiesced because, at that time, he felt more comfortable with his American than Mexican culture, which was understandable as he had been born and reared in Los Angeles, spoke and understood more English than Spanish, and was exposed more to American than Mexican culture; however, in no way, did this signify a rejection of his Mexican culture; it was solely a temporary accommodation. Russell hinted at this necessary accommodation when he commented: "Part of the reason I changed my name--as did many Jewish entertainers--was that I did not want to be stereotyped. But now I'm hard to sell in my own country--except to those who already know me."[54]

However, Avant-Mier seems to go too far when he makes the controversial statement that: "Russell eventually attributed his phenomenal success to the fact that his light skin and European features allowed him to pass as Anglo- or European-American." (Avant-Mier, 59) There seems to be little evidence in pages 142-150 of Loza's Barrio Rhythm: Mexican-American Music in Los Angeles to support such a conclusion. Avant-Mier also apparently overlooks Russell's talent, drive, and work ethic as essential components to his success. Plus, the flexibility that Russell used to manage his identity in order to capitalize on opportunities in his career might just be considered as important as his looks. Some may call this "selling out"; others might say, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

Avant-Mier also contends that: "The case of Andy Russell also reminds us of social structures that often required Latino/as to perform whiteness in order to have any chance of success in the mainstream music business." (Avant-Mier, 59) Deborah Pacini Hernández states as much on page 10 of her book Oye Como Va!: Hybridity and Identity in Latino Popular Music when she makes the same casual argument: "Latinos who could 'pass' as white could access the mainstream market, although only if they hid their ethnicity by changing their names, as did Andy Russell and Ritchie Valens, respectively born Andrés Rábago Pérez and Ricardo Valenzuela." [99]

Thus, neither seems to lend credence to Russell's claim that his Mexican-American ethnicity was clearly evidenced by his singing in Spanish and his continual affirmation of being of Mexican descent.

Furthermore, there was not much the talented, hard-working Russell could do about his personal appearance, who just happened to be "six feet tall, weighs 170 pounds, has hazel colored eyes, and black hair."[36] Russell's distinct racial characteristics apparently were classified as being "Anglo," although they fall within the diversity of Mexican racial identity with its three main components being Spanish, Indian, and Negro ancestry (in varying degrees). In Russell's case, his preponderance of European stock was a reaffirmation, and an extension, of his Mexican identity. There was no need for him to "perform whiteness" or "pass as white," as it was already a part of his racial heritage and identity—-but as a Mexican, not European-American.

Russell's nationality was American, but, at the same time, he never denied his Mexican ethnicity. The name change was simply a means to an end. The explanation could be as simple as Arnheim did not like the sound, wanted something easier to pronounce, and chose "Russell" because it reminded him of Russ Columbo (a vocalist and violin player associated with Arnheim and his Orchestra who had already gained popularity before his untimely death). Also, it is interesting to note that "Russ Columbo" was a stage name, as his birth name was "Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo."

On the other hand, the complicated version was mainly a construct attributed to other musical artists who were contemporaries of Russell, and to Latino scholars who disseminated their opinions. In particular, the opinion of fellow Mexican-American composer, singer, and musician Lalo Guerrero, who stated that he might have had mainstream success, if he, too, were "güero" (light-skinned), like Russell or Vikki Carr.[100] According to Guerrero, they were the only Mexican-Americans who were accepted and successful in Mexico.[100] This simple, almost naive explanation belies Guerrero's own stature as a legendary musician of some renown, known as the "Father of Chicano Music."[101]

As stated previously, one must take note that there were also examples of dark-skinned Mexican-Americans who were successful and who did not anglicize their names: actors Anthony Quinn, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, and, to a certain extent, Ritchie Valens. Other dark-complexioned recording artists who were extremely popular during the period were Mexican singer Toña la Negra and Cuban singers Celia Cruz and Benny Moré and musician Pérez Prado. In addition, Germán Valdés, Tin Tan, a Mexican comic, actor, and singer who grew up in the border area of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, south of El Paso, Texas, was exposed to Mexican-American pachucos and caló. He used this knowledge to create his comical version of a pachuco, using bilingual dialogue to hilarious effect and enormous popularity.

In conclusion, Guerrero surely must have appreciated and understood the fact that, despite the shade of a Mexican's skin tone, starting and maintaining a successful career in the entertainment industry also took a lot of hard work, dedication, talent, networking, and luck.

But, the assessment of Avant-Mier that Russell's success was mainly due to the fact that he "Anglicized" his name and used his "European" features to bypass American society racist structure and perform "whiteness" is short-sighted. In contrast, for Russell, the "name-change" was not that important in the big picture, since he would always claim, sometimes emphatically so, that he was ethnically Mexican. Some newspaper articles, books, and liner notes support this statement (see section What's in a Name? II).

Russell had also stated: "You know, I would tell everybody, I'd say, 'I'm Mexican...' and they'd say, 'No, Andy, you must be Spanish.' I'd say, 'No, I'm Mexican...' and they'd say, 'No, Andy, but you're so light.' And I'd say, 'No, no, I'm Mexican. My father's Mexican. My mother's Mexican...'" [19] Clearly, his ethnic identity was not up for negotiation.

As such, this whole construct needs to be reframed: Russell as a Mexican was involved in a give-and-take, push-and-pull dynamic where, at times, he was on the forefront singing bilingually and declaring his Mexican ethnicity; and, at other times, conforming to American society's stereotypical notions of Mexicans performers in order to have the opportunity to perform and earn a living.

Furthermore, to describe Russell as performing "whiteness" brings up images of performing "blackface" which would be a misnomer, as this term is applied within the context of the racial discrimination exhibited by Anglo-Americans against African-Americans, so it seems out of place when referring to Mexicans or Mexican-Americans who not only have a distinct racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage, but a different history in the United States, as well.

Moreover, once he had a huge hit with "Bésame Mucho," Russell's trademark was his bilingual singing ability, which would not only be a feature of many of his songs, but a reflection of his cultural upbringing. As Loza states: "Because he was singing bilingually, Andy felt that the public would know his background by the Spanish songs in his repertoire" [25] and realize he was a Mexican who had simply adopted a stage name, as was the norm for many performers of all ethnicities in that era.

Yet, his ability to sing in Spanish would prove to be a double-edged sword: it gave him popularity and acceptance at the onset, but it also typecast him as a Latin singer, leaving him out of work when the popular wave of Latin music passed. But, what bothered Russell the most was that his identity as an American singer could be called into question.

This same ability to sing in Spanish, however, then opened up a whole new market for him in Mexico, Latin America, and Europe, where his brand of music was not only accepted but celebrated. Unfortunately, here, Russell was subject to the Mexican brand of discrimination which tended to label him a "pocho." (see "Mexican Films" section above)

One must question if Guerrero's assertion regarding skin color and success in the music industry (and validation of this by later Latino scholars) is correct and universal: that light-skin and European features allowed for upward mobility, while tan or dark-skinned performers were penalized. One cannot deny the preponderance of light-skinned musical stars, but the dark-complexioned stars were also present in United States (and Mexico).

Most important, the expression of Chicano artistic and musical creations were finding an outlet within and outside of the mainstream, for reasons that go beyond just skin color and discrimination. In Russell's case, he was gifted with an incredible voice, had a flair for showmanship, along with charisma and good looks.

On a personal level, just like in the United States, his need to sing and perform were validated in Mexico and Latin America; moreover, he must have surely felt more ethnically Mexican than ever before, when in 1956, he married the daughter of a Mexican diplomat, who gave birth to his only son...

But after 11 years of living and performing in Mexico and Latin America, Russell once again felt the blade of the double-edged sword when he said he "felt that he was losing his professional identity and also being subtly pressured into becoming a citizen of Mexico," [54] which precipitated his return to the United States in the mid-1960s, and, again, having to resort to a temporary accommodation in terms of his Mexican-American identity.

What's in a Name? II[edit]

Russell had been emphatic about his Mexican ethnicity, over the course of his career from 1942 to 1989, which spanned almost 50 years. Notwithstanding, his racial ethnicity was described using different terms in newspapers, magazines, and on albums.

On the inside flap of his 1943 debut album "Favoritos," Capitol described him as: "a handsome young American, born and reared in Los Angeles..."

In a 1944 newspaper article, he was called: a "talented, 23-year-old Mexican."[35]

In another newspaper article from 1944, he was described as: "...a fellow of Spanish extracion..."[102]

In a 1946 article, he was called: " an American Spaniard."[103]

On the back cover of his 1958 album "The Magic of Andy Russell," RCA described his singing style, "...which stems from his Mexican-American upbringing..."

Among many names, he has also been labeled as: "Hispano," "Spanish-Mexican," "of Mexican parentage," "Mexican of Spanish descent," "a Californian of Mexican descent,"[104] "Mexican-Spanish," "mexicano-norteamericano," (1975)[105] "norteamericano," and, finally, "Chicano." (1992)

The Prodigal Son Returns...?[edit]

Andy Russell, "More Amor!" LP, Capitol Records, 1967
Andy Russell, "More Amor!" LP (back cover), Capitol Records, 1967

After releasing the Capitol singles "Longin'" and "Enamorado" in 1966 (neither charted), Russell's comeback album in the U.S. was "More Amor!" (Capitol Records, 1967). On the back cover, there is a certain awkwardness and palpable confusion in the explanation about why Russell had left the United States for Mexico, and why he had returned.

Joe X. Price, a writer for Daily Variety, with tongue firmly in cheek, described Russell as being frozen "for 10 years," on "a decade's 'trip,'" as a "man who incredibly had the intestinal fortitude to walk away from a string of Capitol clicks that would pop the eyes of the Beach Boys," as someone who "fled his native L.A. like a man might flee a 9-5 job that gave him little pleasure and less pay," as an "enigmatic young Russell [who] packed his gear and went to Mexico," as "a case of temporary insanity," and, most telling, as being on a "soul-searching mission to find his ancestral roots."

Of course these descriptions just circled the wagons without revealing the truth about why Russell had left the United States in 1954: the end of the big band era and the decline of the musical style of a crooner singing in front of a big band. There were also the problems of his divorce, falling sales, waning popularity, the inability to get another hit record, the failure to land a television series or movie role, and, most troubling, the advent of a new musical style known as rock 'n' roll.

On the other hand, there was the undeniable allure of performing in a huge Spanish market just across the border in Latin America, where Russell's brand of music was well-known and appreciated.

But after such resonating success in Latin America, why would Russell want to leave all that behind and return to the U.S.? Could it be that the other shoe was about to drop? Could it be that the same push-and-pull factors that drove Russell to leave the U.S. were now driving him to return to the U.S.?

Russell apparently divorced his third wife, Velia Sánchez Belmonte, sometime in the early 1960s (a September 7, 1963 newspaper article states that his new romance was the Countess Joaquina de Navas of Madrid).[106] His television show in Argentina had also ended in 1964. His waning popularity was also evidenced by the popularity of a new wave of younger singers in Mexico, such as César Costa, Enrique Guzmán, and Alberto Vásquez, who, in many ways, were his musical heirs. They took up the mantle that he had initially carried into Mexico, and these young singers performed Spanish covers of American and British Invasion hit songs of the 1960s to an enthusiastic, young female fan base, as Russell had once done as a crooner in the 1940s. Furthermore, and most tellingly, these younger singers were Mexican nationals, unlike Russell who was an American of Mexican ancestry.

Russell probably saw the writing on the wall. He had now become passé. All these reasons most likely played a factor in Russell looking toward the U.S. for a fresh start.

In any case, this time around, the visions of grandeur turned out to be a mirage, as none of the songs on "More Amor!" charted on Billboard. The album followed the same Russell formula: a nice balance of songs, some in English and some in his "bilingual style," which had proven so successful in the decade of the 1940s and in Latin America.

Needless to say, regardless of what was written on the back cover and his situation in Mexico, Russell did not have the same success in 1967 in the U.S. as he had had in 1944 for a plethora of reasons, many dealing with issues other than identity—he was older, musical tastes had changed, he had been effectively gone for 11 years, the milieu was certainly different, as the country was caught up in the social and political turmoil of the 1960s, etc. Yet, the notes on the back cover are a fascinating testament to where Russell believed he was in terms of his public persona in 1967, after having been out of the country for 11 years.

Notwithstanding, Russell continued working. His comeback appearance at the Chauteau Madrid nightclub in New York was a phenomenal success. He also performed in Las Vegas, at other nightclubs, and was a frequent guest on television programs. Plus, he continued to make periodic trips to perform in Mexico and Latin America. Apparently, he continued being a captivating and charismatic performer during his live appearances.

That same year another album followed: "...Such a Pretty World Today" (Capitol, 1967), this time with all songs sung in English, except for "Lady," the last chorus of which he sings in his "flawless Spanish." This was followed by a single, "I'm Not Through Missing You." (Capitol 45 rpm, 1967). This approach seemed to work better as both songs charted in the top ten of Billboard's Easy Listening Chart.

At this point, it may seem that Russell was nudging towards being the American singer who sang in English, while not totally abandoning the Latin singer persona, in order to gain a modicum of success in the U.S. recording industry. It is interesting to note that less was being said about his name change at this point, as many people already knew that he was the Latin or Mexican singer with the American-sounding name...

Returning to the issue of identity: the truth of the matter is that self-identity is a very personal and malleable facet of human nature which has as much to do with inner as outer forces. As such, Russell considered his nationality to be, first and foremost, American but ethnically he was Mexican-American. He would correct people who said he was Spanish based on his appearance (tall, light-skinned, and hazel eyes) by stating that he was Mexican.

He found the term Mexican-American to be acceptable, but he had a difficult time accepting the term "Chicano."

He stated: "My parents were born in Mexico, but I hate the word 'Chicano.' I am an American."[54]

In a later interview, he elaborated on the subject:

It is interesting to note that in the late 19th and early 20th century, the term "Chicano" was an insulting, disparaging term used by upper class Mexicans who lived in the U.S. to refer to indigent Mexican immigrants who had just crossed the border. Thus, Russell is not using the term as it was reclaimed and redefined as a source of pride and political power in the 1960s, although he does agree with the principal. In spite of this, Russell meant no offense or disrespect to those people who embraced the term Chicano; he just stated that it was not for him.

Ironically, Steven Loza, director of Ethnic Musicology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Barrio Rhythm: Mexican-American Music in Los Angeles may have had a different take than Russell on the term "Chicano" when he stated: "Chicano music is Andrew Russell... He personified that whole experience." [78]

The Ubiquity of Mexican Novelty Songs[edit]

An unfortunate consequence of the Latin music craze of the 1940s were the Mexican novelty songs that both Hispanic and non-Hispanic artists recorded in the 1950s. These songs featured singers who sang with exaggerated Spanish accents and wore stereotypical garb like serapes, sombreros, and huaraches sitting under a cactus. Songs, such as Peggy Lee's "Mañana" are a prime example of this performing in "brownface," for lack of a better term. Comic and actor Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez did this to a certain extent on Groucho Marx' You Bet Your Life T.V. show.

Lalo Guerrero also recorded a Mexican novelty song called "Pancho López," a parody of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," which was a huge hit for him. Some Mexican-Americans found it offensive, while others embraced it as a display of cultural solidarity, resistance and pride. At any rate, Guerrero vowed never to perform the song again; of course, he did not return his royalties, however.

Russell also eagerly participated in such tomfoolery with his wife Della on the songs "Who Shot the Hole in my Sombrero?" and "Rosita and Joe" in search of his own hit record. While Guerrero received a huge payday for his efforts, the Russells were scolded in a Billboard article that stated such an accent was annoying.

In light of some Latino scholars' view that Russell's mainstream success was due to his European features and Anglicized name, could Lalo Guerrero and his creation "Pancho López" be framed in a similar racial framework?

Then, can one view this as a case of "reverse discrimination" in that Guerrero's dark skin and Mexican-sounding name worked for him, but the Russells' light features and Anglicized names made it difficult for the American public to accept them as "stereotypical" Mexicans?

Some Latinio scholars credit Guerrero's success due to his ingenuity and "clever lyric," but no mention is made about his dark complexion, Indian features, and Mexican name, which must have surely played up and reinforced the stereotype of the Mexican in the Anglo mind, causing them joy to no end, as they ran out to buy "Pancho López" by the truckload.

Meanwhile, when Latino scholars mention Russell's success, it is just the opposite: his talent is hardly mentioned, but rest assured that his light features and name-change will be stressed as the sole reasons behind his mainstream success, as he is summarily dismissed for "selling out."

So, just imagine how ludicrous it would have been if Russell had cried foul and pointed a finger at Guerrero, saying that his success was based on his having darker skin than he?

Like Russell, Guerrero was also a Mexican-American, which begs these questions:

What if the person dressing up and pretending to be Mexican is himself a Mexican? What if the person performing "brownface" also is a brown face? Is this less offensive since he is Mexican and not an Anglo-American performer (like Peggy Lee)? And furthermore, given a Mexican's mestizaje (or mixed race), wouldn't these same questions apply if a Mexican with light skin tone and European features performed in "whiteface?"

So, again, one must reassess this whole scenario: Who was the sell-out? One, the other, both... or neither?

In conclusion, this argument about access to privilege based on skin tone is really in poor taste, especially when it necessitates pitting these two stalwart role models against each other—and sacrificing one of them—to expose either a white racist structure that was not the making of the Chicano community or, more spot on, the agenda of some academician.

In the final analysis, Russell, regardless of skin tone, is a grand patriarch—along with Lalo Guerrero—of not only Chicano music but Latino music overall because, as an international performer, he was a "precursor who established a trans-national cross-cultural exchange of language, musical repertoire and cultural practice."[96] As such, he can be viewed as a forerunner to later Latino American superstars, such as Ritchie Valens, Vikki Carr, José Feliciano, Carlos Santana, Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Los Lobos, Selena, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera, and Selena Gomez, among others.[94]

Charted Hits[edit]

Song[33] Date recorded Date entered

Billboard magazine
Hot 100
record chart

Highest position Weeks on chart Catalog number Notes
"Bésame mucho" / "Kiss Me Much" December 17, 1943 April 13, 1944 10 2 Capitol 149 With Al Sack and his Orchestra, composed by Consuelo Velázquez and Sunny Skylar
"Amor" March 10, 1944 May 15, 1944 5 8 Capitol 156 With Al Sack and his Orchestra, composed by Sunny Skylar, Ricardo López Méndez, and Gabriel Ruíz.
"What a Diff'rence a Day Made" / "Cuando vuelva a tu lado" ? 1944 October, 1944 15 8 Capitol 167 With Paul Weston and his Orchestra, composed by María Grever and Stanley Adams
"I Dream of You" December 21, 1944 5 3 Capitol 175 With unlisted Orchestra, composed by Osser and Goetschius
"I Can't Begin to Tell You" December 27, 1945 8 2 Capitol 221 With Paul Weston and his Orchestra, composed by James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon
"Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside)" February 28, 1946 May 2, 1946 4 7 Capitol 252 With Paul Weston and his Orchestra, composed by Bernie Wayne and Ben Raleigh
"Pretending" May 17, 1946 October 4, 1946 10 1 Capitol 271 With Paul Weston and his Orchestra, composed by Al Sherman and Marty Symes
"Anniversary Song" November 15, 1946 March 14, 1947 5 2 Capitol 368 With Paul Weston and his Orchestra, composed by Ion Ivanovici (as Iosif Ivanovici), Al Jolson & Saul Chaplin
"Underneath the Arches" October 1, 1948 21 5 Capitol 15183 With the Pied Pipers and unlisted Orchestra, composed by Bud Flanagan and Joseph McCarthy

Filmography[edit]

Year Title[107] Role Notes
1945 The Stork Club Jimmy "Jim" Jones Directed by Hal Walker.

Film debut.

Performs drum solo and sings "If I had a Dozen Hearts" (duet with Betty Hutton) and "Love Me."

Andy Russell performs a drum solo in the 1945 film The Stork Club
Andy Russell and Betty Hutton sing a duet: "If I had a Dozen Hearts" in the 1945 film The Stork Club
Andy Russell sings "Love Me" in the 1945 film The Stork Club
1946 Breakfast in Hollywood Singer Directed by Harold D. Schuster.

Sings "If I Had a Wishing Ring," "Magic is the Moonlight / "Te quiero, dijiste (Muñequita linda)"," and "Amor"

Andy Russell sings "If I Had a Wishing Ring" in Breakfast in Hollywood (1946)
Andy Russell sings "Magic Is the Moonlight"/"Te quiero dijiste (Muñequita linda)" in Breakfast in Hollywood (1946)
Andy Russell Sings "Amor" in Breakfast in Hollywood (1946)
Walt Disney's Make Mine Music (Animation) Voice Sings "Without You" / "Tres Palabras"
1947 Copacabana Singer Directed by Alfred E. Green.

Sings "My Heart Was Doing a Bolero," "Stranger Things Have Happened," "He Hasn't Got a Thing to Sell," and "Je Vous Aime."

1953 House Party (Short) Singer Co-stars with his wife Della.
1955 ¡Qué bravas son las costeñas!... (Coastal women are so temperamental!...) Tony López Mexican production, directed by Roberto Rodríguez.

Film debut in Mexican film.

Sings "¡Viva el amor!" ("Hurrah for Love!"), "Bienvenida" ("Welcome"), "La Bamba," "Adiós, linda morena" ("Goodbye, Beautiful Brown-Skinned Girl"), and "Contigo en la distancia" ("With You in the Distance").

1956 Mi Canción Eres Tú (You are my Song) Daniel Pérez Mexican production, directed by Roberto Rodríguez.

Sings: "Yo sabía" ("I knew"), "Muchachita" ("Little girl"), "Quiéreme mucho" ("Love Me Very Much"), "Destino" ("Destiny"), "Imprescindible" ("Beloved")

¡Viva La Juventud! (Hurrah for the Young People!) Pancho Andreú Mexican production, directed by Fernando Cortés.
Primavera en el Corazón (Springtime in the Heart) Andrés Valdés Mexican production, directed by Roberto Rodríguez.

Sings "Primavera en el corazón," ("Springtime in the Heart"), "Desesperadamente" ("Desperately"), "Cha-cha-cha, Chavela, ven pa'ca" ("Cha-cha-cha, Chavela, come here"), and "Soy un extraño para ti" ("I am a Stranger to You").

1959 Vístete, Cristina (Get dressed, Cristina) Mexican production, directed by Miguel Morayta.
1966 El Mago de los Sueños [108] (The Dream Wizard) (Animation) Voice Spanish production, directed by Francisco Macián.[109]

Sings "Soñarás" ("You Shall Dream").

Discography[edit]

Album Titles:[110]

  • Favoritos (LP, Capitol, 1943)
  • This is the Night (LP, Capitol, 1946)
  • Without you / Tres palabras : from Walt Disney production "Make mine music" (LP, Capitol, 1946)
  • The First Noël (La primera Navidad) (LP, Capitol, 1947)
  • I'll Close my Eyes (LP, Capitol, 1947)
  • Love notes from Andy Russell (LP, Capitol, 1948)
  • The Magic of Andy Russell (LP, RCA Victor, 1958)
  • Los Discos del Millón, Colección de Oro, The Golden Collection (LP, Mexico: Orfeon, 1961)
  • Canciones de Aquí y Allá (LP, RCA Victor Argentina, 1962)
  • More Amor! (LP, Capitol, 1967)
  • ...Such a Pretty World Today (LP, Capitol, 1967)
  • Andy Russell (Barcelona Madrid : Belter, D.L. 1967)
  • Andy Russell (Original radio series produced by AFRTS - Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. Duration: 30:00. Performer(s): Andy Russell, host; various performers. Description: 23 sound discs)
  • Internacional/ International (LP, Discos Latin International, 1973)
  • Andy Russell (Madrid : edita y distribuye Gramusic, D.L. 1973)
  • Yesterday, Now... and Forever / Ayer, Hoy... y Siempre (LP, Kim Records, 1982)
  • Spotlight on—Andy Russell (compilation) (CD, Capitol, 1995)
  • El Crooner Latino de Hollywood, Andy Russell, Soy un Extraño (compilation) (CD, Alma Records, 2003)
  • Andy Russell con Accento Español (compilation, remastered) (CD, Rama Lama Music, 2011)

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Lamparski, Richard (1985). Whatever Became of... Ninth Series. Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-517-55540-9
  • Restrepo Duque, Hernán (1992). Lo que cuentan los boleros [The Meaning Behind the Boleros] (in Spanish). Centro Editorial de Estudios Musicales, Ltda. (Latinoamerican Musical Center).
  • Loza, Steven (1993). Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01902-4
  • Nielsen, Jorge (2004). La Magia de La Television Argentina: 1951-1960, Cierta historia documentada (in Spanish). Ediciones del Jilguero. ISBN 978-9879416068
  • Carlos Ulanovsky, Silvia Itkin, Pablo Sirvén (2006). Estamos en el aire: una historia de la televisión en la Argentina (in Spanish). Emecé Editores. ISBN 978-9500427739
  • Sheinin, M.K. David (2006). Argentina and the United States: An Alliance Contained (United States and the Americas). University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0820328089.
  • Macías, Anthony (2008). Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968 (Refiguring American Music). Duke University Press Books. ISBN 978-0822343226
  • Tumpak, John R. (2008). When Swing was the Thing: Personality Profiles of the Big Band Era. Marquette University Press. ISBN 978-0-87462-024-5
  • Avant-Mier, Roberto (2010). Rock the Nation: Latin/o Identities and the Latin Rock Diaspora. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-4411-6897-9
  • Hernández, Deborah Pacini (2010). Oye Como Va!: Hybridity and Identity in Latino Popular Music. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-4399-0090-1
  • Horn, David (2012). Shepherd, John, ed. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North America. The Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1441160782

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