Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography » Carlos García Montoya: 1903-1993: Guitarist Biography - Gypsy Heritage Influenced Music, Toured With "la Argentina", Performed At Carnegie Hall

Carlos García Montoya: 1903-1993: Guitarist - Gypsy Heritage Influenced Music

flamenco spanish players gypsies

Montoya was born in Madrid, Spain, on December 13, 1903. His father, Juan Garcia, who sold mules to the Spanish Army, died when Montoya was two. His mother, Emilia Montoya, was an amateur guitarist, and began teaching her son when he was eight. Emilia's brother, Ramón Montoya, was also a flamenco guitarist, but was too busy giving lessons to his own son to provide them for his nephew. The family nonetheless made sure that Montoya was introduced to the best players, and as his technique advanced, he began to study guitar with a local barber, Pepe el Barbero. Soon, however, he surpassed his teacher. While Montoya continued to learn from other players, he remained basically self-taught, and although he would one day compose flamenco music for orchestras, he never learned to read music.

Montoya's gypsy heritage also played an important role in his choice to become a musician. Gypsies had immigrated to Spain from India in the fifteenth century and were forced to settle in the Andalusian province. There, the Gypsies absorbed the folk cultures of the Arabs, Christians, Jews, and Spanish. Flamenco featured guitarists who improvised variations on a small number of chords as dancers tapped their toes and clicked castanets. Many maintained—as did Montoya—that only Gypsies could play flamenco with real heart. Montoya inherited this culture and was what the Spanish call "gitano per los cuatro costados," which meant he was Gypsy on all four sides of his family.

At a Glance . . .


Born Carlos García Montoya on December 13, 1903, in Madrid, Spain; died on March 3, 1993 in Wainscott, NY; son of Juan García and Emilia Montoya; married Sally MacLean, May 4, 1940; children: Carlos Jr., Allan MacLean.


Career: Played in local cafés at age 14; toured Europe with dancer La Argentina, late 1920s; toured Far East and United States with La Teresina, 1933; toured Latin America with La Argentinita, 1938; immigrated to United States, 1940; performed as solo and concert guitarist, mid-1940s-1989.




At the age of 14, the budding flamenco guitarist began to learn the tools of his trade by accompanying dancers in nearby towns. Montoya earned a dollar a day, which he used to buy wine for other players in exchange for lessons. Because he made so little money, he worked as a clerk during the day at the post office and later at a courthouse. His skill and reputation grew, and before he was 21 he had performed for famous dancers of ballet and flamenco including Juan el Estampio, La Camisona, and Antonio de Bilbao. In 1924 Montoya joined the army and was stationed in Morocco, where he remained for the next three years. During that time he continued to practice guitar and play for others. He moved to Madrid after completing his military service, and continued playing in cafés.


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