“La Cumparsita” is the most recorded and played Tango song of all time. It was written by Uruguayan musician Gerardo Matos Rodríguez in 1916 while he was ill in bed, but was released on April 19, 1917 at Café La Giralda in Montevideo, Uruguay. In 1998, it was declared as the popular and cultural anthem of Uruguay. The Uruguayan government has officially declared 2017 as the year to celebrate the “Centennial of La Cumparsita.”
In its first few years, “La Cumparsita” was only an instrumental piece but it had already become popular overseas. In 1924, Pascual Contursi, an Argentinean song-writer and friend of Matos Rodríguez, would write the lyrics to the emblematic song to be performed by the legendary Carlos Gardel.
Since then, “La Cumparsita” has been featured in more than a thousand movies, television shows and performances across the world, including the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and the 1959 film Some Like it Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe. It was also featured in Woody Allen’s Radio Days in 1987, in Mark Dindal’s animation for children Cats Don't Dance in 1997 as well as in an episode of the famous cartoon Tom & Jerry.
Throughout repeated adaptations, “La Cumparsita” has become a universally known rhythm and is traditionally danced everywhere by Tango enthusiasts. Its popularity has made it so famous that its sounds have been borrowed by several different music genres and it has been performed by symphony orchestras in diverse countries such as Brazil, China, Finland, France, Japan, México, the United States and Turkey, among others.
Gerardo Matos Rodríguez was born on March 18, 1897 and he was 20 years old when he wrote his master piece. He studied architecture and later pursued his lifelong passions of music and travel, and the underground world of the then popular cabarets and horse race betting. He died on April 25, 1948.
Tango, as a music genre, was included in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.