Born Leonel Edmundo Rivero, this Argentine tango, singer, composer and impresario was nicknamed ‘El Feo’ (‘The Ugly Guy’) for his appearance due to his acromegaly. However, Rivero is considered a great artist and his bass range is something of a rarity in the genre, where fans are used to hearing baritones and tenors.
Rivero was born on June 8, 1911 in Valentin Alsina, a suburb in southern Buenos Aires. Since he was a child, his parents, Anubal and Anselma, encouraged Edmundo and his siblings to become interested in music. At the National Conservatory, the young Rivero was disciplined in classical music, studying singing and then the guitar.
During his adolescence, Rivero’s family moved to the Belgrano neighbourhood, where tango was becoming a dancing phenomenon. Rivero’s first professional appearance was with his sister Eva on Radio Cultura. On the same broadcasting, the radio station hired him to play for accompaniment. He also started playing Spanish classical music at recitals in theatres.
Rivero first worked with Jose De Caro’s orchestra, then worked with Emilio Orlando and Humberto Canaro. Eventually, his talent piqued the interest of De Caro’s more famous brother, Julio, and drafted Rivero into his orchestra. From this point on, Rivero’s fame grew and his nickname of ‘El Feo’ stuck. Rivero also joined Anibal Troilo’s orchestra, creating more than 20 recordings, including duets with Floreal Ruiz and Aldo Calderon. The public started associating Rivero with tangos like ‘El último organito’ (‘The Last Organ’), ‘La viajera perdida’ (‘The Lost Traveler’), ‘Yo te bendigo’ (‘I Bless You’), but especially with ‘Sur,’ the tango by Homero Manzi and Troilo.
During these years, however, Rivero evidently didn’t last long in orchestras. He would claim that his deep voice–unconventional then–was something of a severe handicap. It was in the 1950s when he hit his stride as a singer and started his career as a soloist. In the 1960s, he was accompanied by another guitar group of Rafael Del Pino, Héctor Davis, Héctor Barceló, Rubén Morán and Domingo Laine. During a period in tango when orchestra dominated, a guitar-only accompaniment was considered a bold statement by Rivero and this associated him with the aura of the countryside.
In 1969, Rivero opened his own tango club, El Viejo Almacén (The Old Warehouse), located in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. Great figures in tango and art were recurring visitors, such as Joan Manuel Serrat and Camilo Jose Cela.
Rivero also worked on a number of films. In the 1950 film ‘El cielo en las manos (The Sky in Your Hands’), he sings the title theme composed by Astor Piazzolla and Homero Carpena. In Al Compás de tu Mentira, he sings ‘No te engañes corazón’ (‘Do Not Cheat Yourself, Heart’) by Rodolfo Sciammarella. He also appeared in the Armando Bo film, ‘Pelota de cuero’ (‘Leather Ball’).
Rivero was an author as well, writing two books: ‘Una luz de almacen’ (‘A Warehouse Light’) and ‘Las voces, Gardel y el tango’ (‘The Voices, Gardel and the Tango’). He was in the process of writing a third book on the Lunfardo language and poetry, but Rivero passed due to a heart ailment on January 18, 1986 at the age of 74.