Armando Manzanero, the seminal songwriter who wrote some of the most iconic and enduring songs in the Latin American songbook — and whose music was performed by the world’s biggest stars, from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Andrea Bocelli and Luis Miguel — has died, Manzanero’s family confirms to Billboard. He was 85 years old.
According to initial published reports in various news outlets, including Mexican daily El Universal, Manzanero’s cause of death was complications from COVID-19.
Manzanro had reportedly been diagnosed with the virus on Dec. 17 and was hospitalized five days later. He was put on a respirator but as recently as last night (Dec. 27), reports on his health were good.
A diminutive man — he was no more than five feet tall — Manzanero was a towering figure in Latin music; a singer songwriter who boasted a recognizable, but not fabulous voice, but whose songs transcended genres and nationalities for over six decades.
Perhaps no other composer has been as performed or as relevant in the history of Latin music.
“A song has to be written with sincerity,” Manzanero told Billboard in 2003, attempting to explain the enduring quality of his music. ”It can’t be written with the desire to have instant success or passing success, but wanting to have a song forever. It’s like when you do a painting. You have to do it right so that painting remains on the wall forever. That’s been my secret.”
Manzanero was also savvy and active up until the day he died. He was honored with Billboard’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the 2020 Billboard Latin Music Awards, and performed some of his songs alongside a group of younger acts — Luis Fonsi, Joy, Jesús Navarro and Pablo Alborán.
Manzanero received a 1971 Grammy nomination for song of the year for co-writing the instant standard “It’s Impossible,” which was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Perry Como. Manzanero later received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2014.
He was also the president of Mexico’s Society of Authors and Composers (SACM), a post he held since 2011 and from where he worked tirelessly for composer’s rights.
This morning (Dec. 28), the society released a statement saying: “The romantic soul of Mexico and the world is in mourning.”
Armando Manzanero Canché was born in Mérida, Yucatán in 1935. A precocious musician, he began formal music studies at the local conservatory when he was eight. A pianist by training, he began working professionally as an accompanist when he was 16 years old, and at 22, landed a job for CBS Records in Mexico. That position that led him to singer Lucho Gatica, who recorded his song “Voy A Apagar La Luz,” turned it into a smash hit, and took on Manzanero as his accompanist.
Manzanero would eventually play for dozens of stars, including Pedro Vargas, and in 1959, he also released a first album as a soloist, performing his own material. But to this day, he said, that was never the intent.
“Really, I hardly ever wrote for myself because I never thought I’d be an interpreter,” he told Billboard in 2003. “Even now, I can’t believe it. I wrote songs for everyone. And I don’t write them with a specific interpreter in mind. Anyone can sing them.”
Although many songwriters refuse to name favorite songs, deeming them all their children, Manzanero has no such qualms.
“My favorites are ‘Contigo Aprendí’ and ‘Te Extraño.’ They are songs I’ve carried with me for many years,” he told Billboard.
“Contigo Aprendí” was one of four Manzanero songs that singer Luis Miguel recorded as part of 1997’s Romances, the phenomenally successful album that revived worldwide interest in romantic Latin repertoire. Manzanero, who was musical director of that album, co-produced the following album, Segundos Romances, and again lent several of his songs to Miguel. (“I give him the songs and he chooses what he wants to record,” Manzanero said at the time.)
Surprisingly for such a prolific composer, Manzanero’s breadth of activity went way beyond his writing. Constantly in demand as a producer and arranger, his recent recordings include two enormously successful albums of duets, where he paired up with a host of Latin acts — including Alejandro Sanz, Olga Tañón, Café Quijano and Lucero — to perform new arrangements of his own songs. And as a performer, he constantly toured the U.S., Europe and Latin America as a soloist.
“But what I prefer above all things is composing,” he said. “Because I do it at home, I give it to the person, and that’s it. It’s something I do when the feeling arises.”
Manzanero, a tireless worker and performer, as well as a mentor to countless artists, remained active up until the day of his death — sources say he was answering text messages — and he was in the process of recording a new album.
As he once said nearly a decade ago: “The only thing left for me to do is stop working.”
— SACM México (@SACM_Oficial) December 28, 2020