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Consuelo Velazquez

Although a prolific recording artist and composer in her native Mexico, to the rest of the world Consuelo Velázquez is known almost exclusively for one song -- but what a song: "Besame Mucho," recorded over the years by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to the Beatles. Born August 29, 1916, in Ciudad Guzmán, Mexico, Velázquez began teaching herself piano at the age of four, two years later making her public debut at the Academy in Serratos. After studying at the National Conservatory, in 1938 she was received as a concert pianist at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts, that same year making her film debut in Noches de Carnaval. Velázquez also began performing on radio, then considered a scandalous prospect for any young Mexican woman of virtuous standing. As a result, she worked under a series of male pseudonyms, often playing the original songs she composed at night. Working in the idiom of the Cuban bolero, she wrote "Besame Mucho" in 1941. First recorded that same year by Emilio Tuero, the heartfelt and sweetly innocent ode to the kiss became a hit on Mexican radio but earned its shot at immortality thanks to a dispute between American broadcasters and the performing rights association ASCAP, which was demanding higher royalty fees for its members. Rival organization BMI sought to fill the gap with songs written outside the U.S., handing "Besame Mucho" to lyricist Sunny Skylar for an English-language rewrite. Although the first American recording was by Andy Russell, "Besame Mucho" truly entered the popular consciousness in 1943, when it was a million-selling chart-topper for Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra along with featured vocalists Kitty Kallen and Bob Eberle. Following the success of "Besame Mucho," Velázquez began a recording career of her own, writing a series of Latin American favorites including "Pecado," "La Que Se Fue," "Corazon," "Amar y Vivar," and "Que Divino." Some were also recorded by English-language acts, but all failed to repeat her initial flurry of success. In addition to music, she occasionally acted, appearing as a pianist in the 1959 film Mis Padres Se Divorcian. In August 1962, the city of Guadalajara celebrated the 20th anniversary of "Besame Mucho" with a festival featuring appearances by many of the artists who recorded the song over the years. In the decades since, that list has grown exponentially and now includes Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., José Carreras, Celine Dion, and Artie Shaw. In 1999 a Spanish television network named "Besame Mucho" the song of the century, and in 2003 Velázquez was immortalized with a Mexico City statue sculpted by the renowned artist Sergio Peraza. She died on January 22, 2005.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo

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