Tony Croatto Cantando
|Birth name||Hermes Davide Fastino Croatto Martinis|
|Born||March 2, 1940|
|Died||April 3, 2005|
|Genres||Puerto Rican Folk Music|
Hermes Davide Fastino Croatto Martinis, better known as Tony Croatto (March 2, 1940, some sources state his year of birth as 1939 – April 3, 2005) was an Italian singer and composer best known for his interpretations of Puerto Rican folk music. He was also a television presenter.
Born in Attimis, a comune in the province of Udine, Italy. Croatto's family moved to the border town of La Paz, Uruguay when he was 9 years old. While being raised as a carpenter, lumberjack and farmer, music was very much a part of his household. In 1959, at 19, he created his first pop music group with his brother Edelweiss (nicknamed "Tim") and his sister Argentina (nicknamed "Nelly") which was named "TNT". The group came about at Nelly's insistence; since their mother frowned upon the idea of Nelly (who was 15 years old at the time and adamantly wanted to become a singer) touring solo, she would only allow her to sing in public with her brothers as a backup group. The group eventually developed a very strong following, first in Uruguay, then Argentina, then in Spain, where TNT moved as their popularity soared.
The TNT Years
TNT were renowned for their vocal harmonies, their onstage chemistry and Nelly's voice and magnetic personality. At the time, Tony stated once, he was happy with just singing background and playing guitar, claiming he was rather shy. Eventually he developed a strong stage presence, which allowed him to take over vocal duties occasionally.
In 1960, TNT recorded a song, "Eso, eso, eso", written by tango composers Virgilio and Homero Expósito, for RCA Records, which sold more than 100,000 copies in that country alone. They were part of the first broadcast ever by Argentina's television station, Canal 9, their personal appearances were solidly attended, and their popularity ensured the success of a media campaign they did for the Argentine brewer, Cerveza Quilmes. Their group was also popular in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Mexico, where they eventually toured. Their LP records for RCA were fast sellers all over Latin America. They even appeared in a movie, "Fiebre de Juventud", along with Mexican pop idol Enrique Guzmán, in 1962.
After attaining some success in Spain, TNT moved there in 1963. They went as far as representing the country in the Eurovision Song Contest 1964 in Copenhagen, billed as "Nelly, Tim and Tony". Tony stated once that the group took was handpicked by the powers that be behind TVE, the Spanish state television, to substitute that year's winners in the Spanish classification round, Michel and Teresa María, popular Spanish singers of the time. TVE toned down their normally dynamic act for the contest, in which they sang what was originally a slow ballad, "Caracola" (written by Spanish songwriter Fina de Calderón). Tony and his brothers suspected that this was a disaster waiting to happen. Disappointed by their twelfth-place in the competition, and the subsequent reaction in Spain, their willingness to tour and record there diminished with time. They moved back to Argentina in 1965. Tim eventually left the group in 1966 and returned to his native Italy to become a concert promoter.
Nelly and Tony's move to Puerto Rico
The music pairing of Nelly and Tony then became a duo. In 1968, after travelling across South America and spending two years in Venezuela (his then-wife Raquel Montero was an Argentine-born novela actress, whose good looks and dramatic talent were popular in the country; their mutual children Mara and Alejandro Croatto were born there). Tony moved to what would eventually become his adoptive homeland, Puerto Rico, when "Nelly y Tony" were hired by Puerto Rican promoter Alfred D. Herger to appear on his popular youth television shows. "Nelly y Tony" would perform together until 1974, when Nelly married a Puerto Rican surgeon. She retired from pop music and eventually moved to the United States (she currently lives in Redlands, California).
While performing with his sister Nelly in New York's Teatro Puerto Rico in 1973, Tony was introduced to New York bred but Puerto Rico born vocalist Roberto Tirado who suggested that he compose a hit song for his idol Lucecita Benítez who was going through hard times in her career. Tony obliged and with poet David Ortiz wrote her number one career refreshing hit, "Soy De Una Raza Pura." That would be the only song that Lucecita Benítez would claim as her opening song for many years later on.
While he was almost as successful in Puerto Rico singing pop tunes with his sister as he was in other countries, Tony Croatto was very much impressed by Puerto Rican jibaro singers, who could improvise décimas on the spot, something that reminded him of the payadores of Uruguay and Argentina he used to listen to when he was growing up. He also found a richness in musical traditions in Puerto Rico that, he claimed, was extremely rare elsewhere in Latin America. He started singing Puerto Rican folk songs with Nelly, and noticed that their pop treatment of these songs was far more in demand that the pop material they would normally sing together. He was also well impressed by the Puerto Rican people, who -he claimed- treated him better in his first night in the island than what he had experienced touring extensively in a country or two. That, plus various personal reasons, persuaded him to stay in Puerto Rico for good; he even went as far as saying he was a "born again Puerto Rican." Montero also made Puerto Rico her permanent residence, even after divorcing Croatto later on.
The Haciendo Punto years
Croatto then formed Haciendo Punto en Otro Son, a group famous for its songs (particularly protest songs), which were composed and arranged in the "Nueva Trova" tradition. He joined Puerto Rican singers Silverio Pérez, Josy LaTorre, Irvin García, and Nano Cabrera. "Haciendo Punto" was quite heterogeneous: Pérez's strength was in jíbaro music, LaTorre was a classically trained singer, Cabrera was a rocker and García was also a strong salsa percussionist and singer, but Croatto's vast experience with pop music (in the opinion of Pérez) made all the difference in the group's success. Croatto was instrumental in both the musical and technical aspects of the group, not only as singer, guitarist and keyboardist, but also as arranger, producer and studio technician. In fact, he founded a record label at the time, named Artomax, which was financed by local singer Chucho Avellanet and local producer Tomás Figueroa.
Tony goes solo
|You may listen to Tony Croatto's "Niño Jesus" here|
Most of the group members were strong supporters of Puerto Rican independence, at a moment when discrimination against "independentistas" was strong in the island. The group was boycotted at many public functions at the time by town mayors and politicians, and some of its members (most notably Pérez) were blacklisted. Croatto, who still considered himself a foreigner among Puerto Ricans at the time, amicably left the group, stating that he did not want the people of Puerto Rico, to whom he was extremely grateful for the warm reception they had given him and his family, argue or raise a controversy because of his music. He hinted at this at a spoken section of his first solo hit, "Yo habito una tierra luz" ("I inhabit a lighted land"). His first solo record, featuring both synthesizers and Puerto Rican folk instruments, was well received by the public at large. Since then he was well regarded for his interpretations of Puerto Rican folk music, which spanned over thirty albums.
Croatto achieved considerable success in Puerto Rico by remaking old Puerto Rican standards such as the plena standard "La Máquina" ("The -Train's- Engine") and a medley of plenas by Cesar Concepcion, both rearranged as pop songs. Another large hit came from his adaptation of "El Cocuy Que Alumbra" ('The Firefly That Shines') from the Venezuelan parranda band Un Solo Pueblo, which was renamed "A Correr Sabana" once set to new lyrics written by renowned salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso. Curet and Croatto wrote another firefly song together, this time an original named Cucubano, which was even more successful (the song was also versioned by the Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo).
In 1985, Croatto recorded another mega-hit: his song, El Niñito Jesus (aka "Se llama Jesús"), released during the Christmas season, which told about a poor and hungry child, named Jesus (a thinly veiled reference to the Christ child), with wornout pants, and no shoes, and who walked into a house of well doers begging for attention, while the people household rejected him, first euphemistically, then rather openly. This song has become a Christmas classic in Puerto Rico.
Croatto divorced from Montero and married former singer, actress (and later children television hostess) Glorivee in 1979. His son Hermes was born during his marriage to Glorivee. Croatto was a firm believer and devout Roman Catholic, although he could not participate fully in church rituals given his status as a divorced man. In part as a way to compensate for this and contribute to his faith he wrote a jíbaro mass which gave him one of his latter hits, "Creo en Dios" ("I believe in God").
Croatto recorded musical versions of poems and lullabies written by Georgina Lázaro, a Puerto Rican poet whose works were mostly intended for children.
Glorivee had a bout with brain cancer, from which she successfully recovered. Croatto eventually divorced Glorivee and married Lillian Arroyo. He eventually moved to Carolina where he spent his later years.
"Desde Mi Pueblo"
Parallel to his singing career, Croatto also became a presenter on "Desde mi pueblo" ("From My Town"), a variety show / weekly documentary that aired weekly on WIPR-TV. His co-hosts were local comedian Luis Antonio Rivera (Yoyo Boing), the former Miss Universe 1985, Deborah Carthy Deu and María Falcón. The program's concept involved traveling to a different municipality of Puerto Rico every week and highlighting all cultural aspects found in each town. Given the fact that Puerto Rico has 78 municipalities, there was enough material to show and research over the program's six-year run. Carthy is on record stating that Croatto was genuinely interested in researching each program carefully, and became far more knowledgeable about Puerto Rican culture than most of the program's producers, co-hosts and film crew. Because of his background as a farmer, Croatto was very much interested in local agricultural issues; he jumped at trying local folklore, particularly jíbaro music, bomba and plena variations that were unique to each town or region, "sometimes fearlessly", said Rivera once.
Death and legacy
Croatto, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed on March 2005 with lung and brain cancer. He refused medical treatment, opting for natural treatments instead. He expected his health to eventually improve, but probably was not aware on how sick he was, since his death came just three weeks after the announcement. Croatto dictated a letter published in local papers to notify of his illness and leave a message of gratitude to the people of Puerto Rico who adopted him as son and patriot.
After requesting to be released from the hospital to spend his last days with his family, Croatto died, on April 2, 2005. His fellow former Haciendo Punto bandmates had staged a benefit concert for him the night before, which was filmed for later release on a DVD. As a gift from them, the production company provided a live audio feed to what would become Croatto's deathbed, it has been stated that Croatto smiled when the band requested a standing ovation to him, just before losing consciousness for the last time. His funeral was held at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and he was given a state funeral. Thousands of Puerto Ricans paid their respects and later accompanied the funeral procession en route to his burial in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery located in Old San Juan.
He will always be remembered for how he re-kindled and boosted in Puerto Ricans the love for their country, their nature, and the "jíbaro" concept without political colors nor beliefs.