jabw_vintage/report no. 23

Let Us Tell You About.....

Jose Norman 1906-1990, the man who introduced the rumba to England

this page first published by John Wright, 11 March 2002
last updated 7 April 2012vintage@r2ok.co.uk
I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Manny Norman. Manny had visited this website, saw a reference to a Pathe film, and wrote to me: "I am the eldest son of Jose Norman (who died in 1990) and, naturally, I remember his band well when I was growing up; it pretty well pervaded our whole life at the time!"
I wrote back to Manny saying that all I knew about his father was that he made just a few recordings in the early '30's and a Pathe film with his band The Rumberos.

NOTE: All Manny's contributions to this page are printed in maroon. John Wright's contributions are in blue.
Manny wrote back:
My father was born in 1906 in Liverpool. His father's surname was actually Sternberg (I believe he was Polish Jewish) and my father was given the Christian names Joseph Norman. I believe his parents separated and his father moved to Russia to become a pianist in the court of the Czar. Then my father took the surname of his mother (who was Scottish), Henderson, and was later adopted by a Greek couple, the husband of which I knew as Grandad (I do not remember his wife). He lived in France for a number of years and was trained as a classical pianist under Alfred Cortot and Vincent d'Indy, and took the name Norman Henderson. He was beginning to make a bit of a name for himself as a classical pianist, but seemed to be looking for more exotic things and led a Hawaiian band in the 1920s. He had adopted the stage name of Joseph Norman for the non-classical role.
His conversion to Cuban music came when he met the family of the Cuban consul general in Liverpool, and heard a recording of The Peanut Vendor (El Manicero) and others, and then became one of the first people in England, and maybe in Europe, to play the Cuban music. In fact he has been described as the man who introduced the rumba to Europe.
Jose later married one of the daughters of the Cuban consul, Manuela Garcia-Iniguez Enamorado, in July of 1933, and moved to London where I was born just over a year later in August of 1934.

I have informed Manny that the only known British recordings of his father's own band(s) are:
Joseph Norman and His Cuban Rumba Band
London, July 1931
5757-3 Fiesta Imperial 2501
5758-4 Manuela Imperial 2501
- both recordings feature vocalist 'Malandrino'
Jose Norman's Novelty Band
London, Dec 8, 1932
CAR1595-1 Aloha Sunset Land Regal-Zonophone MR783 (UK), G21652 (Aus), Col J1631 (Jpn)
CAR1596-1 Hawaiian Eyes Regal-Zonophone MR783 (UK), G21652 (Aus), Col J1631 (Jpn)
Jose Norman's Hawaiian Band
(with vocal quartette -v)

London, Feb 17, 1933
CAR1754-1 My South Sea Home -v Regal-Zonophone MR861 (UK), G21705 (Aus)

CAR1755-1 Maui Girl -v Regal-Zonophone MR861 (UK), G21705 (Aus), Ideal 12285 (Fr?)
CAR 1756- Hush A Bye, Lull A Bye RZ G 21757 (Aus)

CAR 1757- Sweet Hawaiian Girl Of Mine RZ G 21757 (Aus)

the French(?) record has Jose's band on the other side:

unkown location or date
Papillons Sous La PluieIdeal 12285
Ideal 12285 as by Orchestre Hawaien De Jos Norman
Jose Norman and his Cuban Orchestra
London, 20 Sept 1936
TB-2485-1-2 Shaking The Maraccas/Cuban Moonlight/Nenita Mia
TB-2486-1-2 Peanut Vendor/Mama Inez
- both recordings featured vocals by Jose Norman, but were rejected by Decca.
issued as
Fred Jackson and his Orchestra
London, 14 April 1937
CE-8267-1 Sweet Sue Parlophone F-797
CE-8270-1 Nenita Mia Parlophone F-797
- both feature vocals, including Jose Norman on Nenita Mia
(matrices CE-8268/9 are untraced)
Note: we are grateful to Malcolm Rockwell for the details of the Hawaiian band recordings.
Jose Norman
Harry Roy Manny Norman informs me that vocalist 'Malandrino' is not a pseudonym: Malandrino was Andre Malandrinos, a relative of the Greek couple who adopted my father. I guess that made him an adopted relative of mine. I don't recall ever meeting him but I'm sure I must have, since I did meet others of the Malandrinos family. However, I do remember his name being mentioned a lot over the years; in fact my family still mentions his name. The fact that he had a foreign accent made him a good candidate for singing in a Rumba band in those days. I believe that, in the late 40s, Andre Malandrinos may have compered on an Edmundo Ros television show. I remember my father recommending him when he (my father) was asked to compere the show using a phoney accent!
Manny continued: Joseph Norman wrote a number of "Cuban" songs including Cuban Pete, his most famous, and some of his lesser known compositions were named after my mother and my two brothers and me. My father knew my mother for some years before they married, he wrote (at least) two songs for her, Manuela (1931) and "Mi Manuelita". During the mid to late 1930's he was closely associated with Harry Roy, one of the most popular British bands of the time. By that time his stage name had become Jose Norman, but the Henderson was never legally dropped, and the surname on my birth certificate, is Norman-Henderson, although I usually only use the Norman part.
I scanned through the discography of Harry Roy's band and, picking out the rumbas, I was able to identify Jose Norman compositions recorded by Harry's band:

WE-4800-2 Southern Serenade (Hargreaves-Damerell-Norman) Parlophone R1373
CE-7202-1 Mammy Bong (Jose Norman) Parlophone F302
CE-7672-1 Cuban Pete (Jose Norman) Parlophone F482
CE-8208-1 Rita, The Rumba Queen (Jose Norman) Parlophone F750
- all with vocals by Harry Roy.
Note: Rita, The Rumba Queen was also recorded as part of a medley on Parlophone F931 (CE-8658-1).
CE-8719-2 When A Cuban Says 'I Love You' (Norman-Green) Parlophone F935
Harry Roy's band recorded many other rumbas including South American Joe, Campesina, Cuban Moonlight, it's possible Jose Norman was involved in the musical direction of some of these other recordings.
Listen to Harry Roy's band, then listen to Bill Currie singing Cuban Pete

There were also other compositions of a different musical nature:
CE-7870-1 Sarah, The Sergeant-Major's Daughter (Savile-Royce-Kennedy-Norman) Parlophone F588, Ariel 4760
- vocals by Bill Currie and Sam Curtis

CE-9305-1 There's A Little Irish Colleen On Broadway (Jose Norman) Parlophone F1203
- vocals by Wendy Clare (pictured right) accompanied by Harry Roy, Bill Currie and Ray Ellington.
Listen to Wendy Clare singing There's A Little Irish Colleen On Broadway

Wendy Clare
Several other 1930's British bands recorded Jose Norman compositions including Bert Ambrose, Harry Leader, Billy Cotton, Joe Loss, Jay Wilbur, George Scott Wood and Mantovani.
A Pathe short film probably still exists of Jose Norman and his Rumberos (1938) performing Cubana. This band achieved some fame through a BBC radio series. The cutting shown below is difficult to read. This is what I can make out (Mike Thomas clarified some of the text from a better copy)
The first in a series of BBC broadcasts will make its bow on National between 6.40 and 7.20pm, produced by Jimmy Gilroy and called Havana Nights At Cuban Pete's.
The shows are are to be designed along colourful and exotic lines and by no means the most important ingredient will be the music.
Musical matters have been placed in the very responsible hands of Jose Norman who is the ideal man for the job as he may rightly be styled the Rumba King as far as this country is concerned.
He introduced that exotic dance over here, and many fine numbers of the idiom have come from his pen, including Cuban Pete, Mammy Bong, Rita The Rumba Queen etc.
Most of the music to be used in the new shows will be written by Jose and he is doing the musical scores for the whole series.
In addition he will act as musical director leading his carefully selected band, to be known as the Rumberos, from the piano and featuring that queer instrument the caja about which Vic Filmer wrote a highly informative article recently. It is a box with steel prongs which sounds like a cross between the double bass and the marimba.
The full line-up is Tommy Miles (trumpet), F.Markwick (trombone and quihadas (horse jaws)), Ernest Cooper (flute and clarinet), Cliff Cadman (clarinet and violin), Cliff Timms (gourd and violin), Freddie Fielder (claves and (for tangos) accordion), Ronnie Rogers (guitar), Ted Rogers (maracas and steel guitar), Mike Cassidy (bass), Dick Whitall (bongos, drums etc) and Jose Norman (director, piano and caja.

Mike Thomas adds: a later paragraph says 'Special singers for the programme are Pol Zacharias and Andrea Malandrinos.
Manny continues: Jose Norman also ran a music publishing company call the J. Norris Music Company in the late 1930s. He joined the British army during WWII, but was released after about two or three years because of ill health (he suffered problems all his life as the result of a back injury he had sustained in his school days).
Jose Norman was a great friend of Harry Roy. My memories of Harry Roy's band are mainly The Lambeth Walk and Leicester Square Rag but he and my father worked closely together in the years before WWII. I think Harry Roy was very instrumental in getting my father into music composition and I think Harry was also a partner in the J. Norris music company I mentioned.
There is a story, which my father and mother would both remind me of, but I do not remember it actually happening. When I was a toddler, they used to sit me on the potty (like all parents do) and would say "Now do one for Mummy and one for Daddy". At one time, after the task was accomplished, I am alleged to have said triumphantly "Two for Harry Roy".
About other band leaders. I knew both Edmundo Ros and Roberto Inglez (whose real name was Robert Inglis), also Don Carlos (whose real name was Abe Walters) and another "Latin-American" English band leader called Santiago Lopez. I also met Jack Payne and Billy Cotton and probably a few others.
After leaving the army Jose Norman worked for a short time as an arranger for Jack Payne and for Billy Cotton, and then formed the slightly re-named Rumbaleros.

Jose also directed an orchestra for some films at the time, particularly the company that made the Bubble and Squeak cartoons (British Animated Cartoons). They were about a taxi driver called Bubble and his taxi called Squeak. In fact, when we acquired a car in about 1947, my father named it Squeak. My father also had a weekly spot on "Music while you Work" and one on "Cafe on the Corner", which were daily features on the BBC Light Programme. There may still be archived recordings of these at the BBC.
The photograph below shows the 1940's band (at least, part of it), playing to dancers. Jose Norman is the one with the maracas. If that is the singer his name is Johnny Bergara, a Spaniard, who my father discovered singing on a construction site, and liked the voice so much that he hired him.

Manny adds: Here is my attempt at the ones in lace from left to right as I remember most of their faces:
Jose Norman, Leader with the maracas (handsome like his son!)
Johnny Bergara (though I am not certain) with the claves
Peter Edge (I don't think it is Ted Fletcher) with flute
Phil Broughton with clarinet
Gerry Moss with guitar
Dick Whithall with drums (I'm using the Empress Hall spelling)
Les Withers at the piano.

One who seems to be missing from the picture is Jack (Jock) Allcorn, the bass player. He was a little guy with a big bass - why does this happen so often? I think the guy in the tuxedo is probably an announcer, although he could be Johnny Bergara, the main singer. Gerry Moss and my father also sang. The trumpet player is missing, but I can't remember his name.
I certainly remember all that lace. My mother used to wash and iron those lace shirts herself as she didn't want them to be ruined by others. I believe there was hundreds of yards of it!
In 1949, after Grandad died, Jose decided that we would all move to Cuba and that he would give up the music business. My mother's parents had land in the mountains in the south of Cuba. Later, of course, all that land was lost to Fidel Castro and Co. My father's band in England wasrun by his drummer, Dick Whithall, after we emigrated to Cuba in November 1949.
During the 1950s Jose didn't keep his promise of quitting music and spent some time in Havana, composing, arranging and directing music for the television studios and doing solo performances. It was there that he developed an act where he first played a left-hand composition of his (which unfortunately he never wrote down), then followed with Green Eyes played with the right hand, accompanying himself with the maracas in the left hand, then finishing off blind-folded with thick gloves and the piano covered with a sheet and playing Chopin's minute waltz - he was quite an accomplished pianist, and (in the opinions of many, including myself) could have been among the greats if he had pushed in the right direction.
At the end of 1960, he and my mother and two brothers came to the United States as refugees (I had already gone back to England in 1958 after a run in a with the previous government, and did not come to the US until 1980). My parents toured the US for some time, giving recitals, concerts and anti-communism lectures. They later settled in Los Angeles. Jose was also an accomplished amateur magician, and even taught magic in Los Angeles.
Jose's most famous composition Cuban Pete, was recently revived by Jim Carrey in the movie "The Mask". My mother was quite surprised when she received two quite large royalties cheques from PRS in the months after "The Mask" was released. She had been used to getting very small amounts.
Before that the song was featured in a 1946 film of the same name. Cuban Pete starred Desi Arnaz who adopted the song as his theme song (American for signature tune!). I think a lot of people believed Arnaz wrote it, and he was quite happy to let them! My father did actually meet him when he came to the States, but they didn't get along. Apparently Desi Arnaz had a bit of a mean streak in him and drank a lot.

Have a listen to the Mask version of Cuban Pete

Listen to Desi Arnaz' version of Cuban Pete.

Manny continues: Jose Norman died in Los Angeles on May 1st, 1990 at the age of 83. My mother is still living, in fact, she will celebrate her 90th birthday on May 10th this year.
Whenever I visit my mother in LA I sleep in the room which used to be his office where he gave piano lessons until a few weeks before he died. The room is decorated with memorabilia, including opening bars from a number of songs, which includes There's a Little Irish Colleen On Broadway, There's A One Horse Town In Arizona, Sarah The Sergeant Major's Daughter, Cuban Pete, Mammy Bong, Conga Clara, Manuela, Mi Manuelita, The Bullfrog and others, and even a picture of Stanley Holloway! He put all this up himself as, like, most show people, he liked to see his name in print. We still have the piano he used to teach his pupils.
I believe Edmundo Ros used to play "The Bullfrog" on his broadcasts in the 40s and 50s. The number was written about 1946 or 47.
I am pleasantly surprised to hear that Edmundo Ros is still alive. When I returned to England from Cuba, in 1958, I tried to contact him, but was unsuccessful on the first attempt and did not pursue it. However, I did meet my father's guitarist, Gerry Moss, who was playing with Alex Alexander's band at the time. They were playing at some Spanish place, and, because I was there, played a few of my father's songs (Cuban Pete several times). It was very pleasant.
Edmundo RosIn the British popularity ratings of Latin-American bands of the late 1940s, Edmundo Ros was number 1, Jose Norman was number 2 and Roberto Inglez was number 3. My father got on very well with Edmundo Ros, but not with Robert Inglez, mainly because the man really didn't know much about Cuban music.
Some of the other bandleaders I remember: Tito Burns (mid 1940s), Vic Lewis (mid 1940s. He and my father alternated on a weekly television show), Ivy Benson's All Girls Band (she was also the girlfriend of one of the Booseys of Boosey and Hawkes - we, as kids, knew then as Uncle Boosey and Auntie Ivy!). Regarding Roberto Inglez, he and my father carried on a lively polemic about the commercial viability of the rumba in either the Melody Maker or the Musical Express. The editor told them to stop!.

John Wright: I'm very grateful that Manny Norman contacted me and shared his personal memories and family memorabilia. Researching the career of Jose Norman has been most rewarding, a part of British dance band history I might otherwise have been totally unaware. I was very fascinated by Manny's story of his father, and I felt that Jose had made a significant contribution to the dance band scene in 1930's Britain. Here we had a good opportunity to tell the story and preserve the memories of the Norman family. I will try to ensure that any future histories written about Britain's dance band days include a little chapter on Jose Norman, the man who introduced the rumba to England, and did a lot more too!

Copyright 2002 Manny Norman/John Wright, images should not be copied without permission

Personal information and photographs on these pages were provided by Jose Norman's son, Manny Norman, with the approval of his mother and family.
Recording career details are from British Dance Bands On Record by Brian Rust/Sandy Forbes.
Photograph and voice of Wendy Clare reproduced by permission of her daughter Sue Nobles.

Manny Norman wishes to convey his appreciation to John Wright for putting together this excellent web page, which is also appreciated by other members of the family.

There is an active discussion group where you can talk about Jose Norman and other bands:

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