La Copla Española: Estrellita Castro

Estrella Castro Navarrete was a singer and actress known by her stage name of Estrellita Castro. She was born in Seville on 28th June 1908 in Calle Mateos Gago, the street that leads from the Giralda to the Barrio de Santa Cruz, one of the areas of the city with strongest traditional character.
Estrellita was the youngest of eleven children. Her father was a fishmonger from Galicia. From the age of eleven she attended the Maestro Realito’s dance academy, doing the housework to help pay for her classes. At the age of twelve she danced for the first time in the presence of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia. A key figure at the beginning of her career was the legendary bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, who saw her dance at a Gala for underprivileged children and gave her a gold coin. She made her début at “Tronío” in the Calle Sierpes and went on to perform at all the major theatres in Spain, Europe, Latin America and even the United States.

She was a real creative force in what is now known as canción andaluza and her songs were immensely popular in the thirties and forties. She performed in cafés in Seville and brought Flamenco influences to the French influenced Cuplé songs, making them more Andalusian and Spanish.

Fandangos – from the film “Mariquilla Terremoto” (1938)

Mi Jaca, written by Ramón Perelló, a composer born in La Unión (Murcia), was one of her biggest successes, here she sings it in a comic scene from the film Mariquilla Terremoto.

Mi Jaca – “Mariquilla Terremoto” (1938)

Another of her most successful songs was Suspiros de España, a famous Pasodoble composed in 1902 by the Maestro Antonio Álvarez Alonso, whose nephew added the lyrics in 1939 for her to sing in the film of the same name.

Suspiros de España from the film “Suspiros de España”

María de la O, La Morena de mi Copla, Mari Cruz, Los Tientos del Reloj or María Magdalena are a few of her other hits. Although most of them are in a folkloric vein, Estrellita Castro covered a wide range of styles and enjoyed much longer lasting success than the rest of her contemporaries.

Maria de la O

She sang Zambras, Cuban Boleros, Mazurcas and even Tangos but her real forte was the Pasodoble and she became known as “The Queen of the Pasodoble”. She was also a fine flamenco cantaora, singing palos as varied as Serranas, Colombianas, Guajiras, Fandangos, Soleares, Tanguillos, Sevillanas and Saetas. It was when singing Flamenco, the experts agree, that the unequalled range and register of Estrellita’s voice was most to the fore.

El pregón de las Flores – from the film “El Barbero de Sevilla” (1938)

Estrellita’s success in Spain led to the promoters of the time arranging well publicised concerts for her in major European cities and many countries in Latin America where she became an idol. Her success as a singer paved her way into the film industry and she was, along with Imperio Argentina, one of the highest paid and most successful actresses of the thirties.

En las Cruces de Mi Reja – from the film “Suspiros de España” (1939)

Although she filmed a short in 1933, her real début in the movies came in 1935 with Rosario la Cortijera. She made forty films, mostly of folkloric themes, of which the best remembered are: Suspiros de España, El Barbero de Sevilla and Mariquilla Terremoto, all filmed in Germany. She sang accompanied by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.

Lola la de los Brillantes – from the film Torbellino (1941)

In the film La Patria Chica (1943) she sang the following duet with the tenor Pedro Terol:

Aquel Pueblecito Blanco

She had a long career but towards the end her performances were less impressive and her artistic reputation declined. Nevertheless, she was still popular and much loved by other artists for the tremendous influence she had had on la canción española.
She spent the last years of her life with her partner Demetrio Corbi. When Demetrio died, she was helped through a period of depression and loneliness by her friend and fellow artist the Cantaora Marifé de Triana.

Soleá – Pasodoble

In the majority of her films Estrellita Castro plays the lively young lass from Seville who leaves town to make it in the music business. In 1978 a street in the Alameda de Hércules of her home town was named after her.
Estrellita Castro died in Madrid on 10th July 1983. She was buried, as she had expressly asked to be, with her trademark ringlets on her forehead and wrapped in a Spanish shawl.

2 Responses to La Copla Española: Estrellita Castro

  1. Lovely post – and interesting. The last song really showed the quality of her voice, I think. Obviously, I don’t know how old she was there and if there was any deterioration in her voice by that time, but I thought she sounded magnificent.

    • maki says:

      Hi SR

      She was in her forties when the last clip was recorded and had lost a little of the strength of her voice but more than made up for it in technique and style. She was so young when she started singing that by the time she was in her forties her voice was “old”.

      Thanks for following the series.

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