Born: January 4, 1911 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor/leader
Noro Morales - piano, bandleader (1911 - 1964)
Noro Morales was one of the most popular Latin band leaders of the ‘40s and ‘50s, in New York. Morales grew up in a musical family, which was invited in 1924 to become the court orchestra of the president of Venezuela. Noro took over as conductor after his father died, eventually moving the band back to Puerto Rico. He moved to New York City in 1935 and within two years was leading his own rhumba band. Installed as the house band at the legendary club El Morocco, Morales was at the center of the rise of Latin jazz in the early 1940s. Xavier Cugat took Morales' composition, Bim, Bam, Bum and covered it for one of his earliest hits. Many of the great names in Latin music floated through Morales' band during this time: Machito, Tito Rodriguez, and Tito Puente. He was a major influence on Charlie and Eddie Palmieri.
Morales remained a popular and successful act on the New York scene for over 20 years, appearing annually at the Daily News Harvest Moon Ball and working clubs such as the Copacabana and the China Doll. After more than 25 years in New York, Noro began to feel the lure of his native island calling him back. In the late 1950s the music business in the States was in a slump. Big bands were being replaced by small combos, and venues such as the Palladium Ballroom were no longer profitable. Noro suffered from glaucoma brought on by diabetes and was beginning to lose his eyesight. All this contributed to his decision to go back home. In 1960, he did just that.
His sister Alicia, through some business connections in Puerto Rico, negotiated a contract for him to play with his big band at the La Concha Hotel in San Juan for six months. He ended up performing there for nearly four years. Noro actually organized a new band in Puerto Rico. He chose the best local musicians he could find and brought others from New York with him.
Accompanied by the distinguished group of musicians he had brought together in Puerto Rico, Noro Morales continued his recording career. He made at least two albums for the Marvela and Fragoso labels. Accompanied by a small rhythm group he re-recorded some of his old hits such as: “Perfume de Gardenias,” “Silencio,” “Arráncame La Vida,” and “Malditos Celos.”
Although he was not averse to catering to popular tastes, Morales usually stayed true to his Latin roots, using a traditional line-up featuring a rhythm section that included bass, bongos, conga, timbales, and claves, with himself on piano.
In spite of his indomitable spirit, besieged by diabetes, glaucoma, and kidney problems, Noro Morales died on January 14, 1964, at the relatively young age of 53. He is buried in Puerto Rico, where he is recognized as a musical legend, El Gran Noro Morales.