Rita Montaner, also known as “La Única” [The One and Only] was born on May 14, 1900 in Guanabacoa, Cuba. The singer/actress was considered to be one of the greatest radio, television, and film actresses in Cuba. She died at age 58 on April 17, 1958.
Rita Montaner is one of the most charismatic characters in Cuban popular culture. Mercedes Santos Moray writes, “The woman with cinnamon skin, and a marvelous mole on her forehead, received a thorough musical education. [. . .] Despite her personal charms, the excellency of her piano interpretations—which could have consecrated her as a concert performer of cultured music—the theater, as well as radio, and afterwards, cinema and television, were to be the privileged spaces for this passionate woman who had an ironic character and an explosive life.”
Montaner studied piano at the Peyrellade Conservatory, receiving a Gold Medal at thirteen years of age. In 1917 she graduated in piano, singing and harmony, and then performed in several charity concerts. Even after completing her studies in piano, all predicted that she would have great career. Having chosen singing, on October 10, 1922, upon the inauguration of radio in Cuba, she became the first female voice of the nascent Cuban radio. Thereafter and on different stages, Montaner’s fate was linked to that of the most prestigious Cuban musicians and artists as she performed all over the Americas and Europe.
Rita Montaner made a name for herself on the stage, especially in lyric theater, when she made her debut in the traditional Spanish zarzuela [operetta] Niña Rita, a piece which was premiered in 1927, in which she sang the famous congo-tango “Mamá Inés,” by the Cuban master Ernesto Lecuona.
In 1928 she made her debut in Paris, on stages such as the Olympia and The Palace, where she was hired to sub for Raquel Mayer. In 1929, she performed in Josephine Baker’s shows until her return to Cuba in 1930. She was then hired in the United States by M. Jolson to sing in the Wonder Bar.
Montaner explored every genre and way of performance on stage, from the theater to the cabaret, maintaining an ongoing presence at venues such as the mythic Tropicana, where she began a legendary season in 1949 together with famed Bola de Nieve on the piano. She was also an actress for radio and television, where her charisma and her critical irony were made evident in the 1940s and the 1950s.
In cinema, in Cuba as well as in Mexico, she was heralded as one of its main stars. “She gave life to melodramas and gave a special touch of humor and sensibility to the so called musical genres, with the wit and that singular intensity of her interpretations,” as demonstrated in the 1938 El Romance del Palmar (Romance in the Palm Grove), the Cuban “talkie” of the pre-revolutionary era with the highest box office earnings in and outside of Cuba. She also performed in Mexican movies, such as the 1947 María la O—inspired by the famous traditional zarzuela by Lecuona. In 1952, she was again the main star in another Cuban film, La Única, which earned her the epithet of her acting-singing career, and with which she was unanimously recognized by her fans.
See Rita Montaner in the 1938 El Romance del Palmar (and check out the all-woman band!) here:
For more information (in Spanish) and photo above, see http://www.dmsgbc.sld.cu/gbcoa/rita.htm
For full biography (in English) by Mercedes Santos Moray, see http://www.afrocubaweb.com/ritamontaner.htm