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    Louise Tobin, Jazz Vocalist Who Put Her Career on Hold, Dies at 104

    She stopped performing to raise children, at the request of her first husband, the bandleader Harry James. After remarrying, she resumed singing decades later.With the big band era in full swing in 1939, Louise Tobin, a jazz vocalist with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, was on the cusp of nationwide fame. But she soon put her career on hold at the request of her husband, the trumpeter and bandleader Harry James.Mr. James had begun touring with his own band, leaving Ms. Tobin to care for their two sons, Harry Jr. and Tim. And after the couple divorced in 1943, Ms. Tobin devoted herself to raising them for the next 20 years or so.Over time her melodic voice was largely forgotten — until she was invited onstage for an impromptu performance at a New Orleans nightclub in the late 1950s.A recording of that appearance helped jump-start her career, and she soon joined the band of Michael (Peanuts) Hucko, a clarinetist and bandleader. The two became an item, and married in 1967.Ms. Tobin, who spent the next decades traveling the world and making music with Mr. Hucko, died on Saturday at the home of a granddaughter in Carrollton, Texas, her son Harry said. She was 104.The newspapers of her day often compared Ms. Tobin’s warm voice to that of a young Ella Fitzgerald. She became a professional singer as a teenager, after winning a radio talent contest in Dallas in 1932. She was the fourth youngest of 11 siblings, and she eagerly left behind household chores to tour the state with different jazz ensembles.“I was thrilled,” she told The Dallas Morning News in 2010. “My fulfillment was not to have to wash dishes.”In 1934, she joined a local big band, where she met Mr. James, who played first trumpet. They eloped in 1935, shortly after the orchestra split up, and traveled around the country looking for work.By 1937, Mr. James had joined Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, and in 1939 he left to start his own band, which endured for four decades and was the first orchestra to employ Frank Sinatra.By Ms. Tobin’s account, she heard the young Sinatra sing on a local radio show and suggested that Mr. James visit him at the New Jersey restaurant where Sinatra worked as a singing waiter.Ms. Tobin was performing in New York at the time, and she joined Mr. Goodman’s band after a talent scout saw her perform in a Greenwich Village nightclub.She released hit records with Mr. Goodman’s orchestra, like a rendition of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” which became one of the most popular songs in the country. But as her career gained momentum, so did that of Mr. James, who became one of the most popular bandleaders of the swing era: In 1942, Columbia Records attributed a shortage of shellac to demand for his records.“We were more trying to establish Harry than we were trying to establish me,” Ms. Tobin said in 2010. “I didn’t juggle it very well.”Mr. James’s success kept him on the road, where he was surrounded by temptation. Shortly after he and Ms. Tobin divorced in 1943, he married the actress Betty Grable.Ms. Tobin was still popular when she quit Mr. Goodman’s band in the early 1940s and returned to Texas with her sons, but music became an afterthought as she raised them. She stayed out of the spotlight until after they had graduated from high school, when she went to see the Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt play in New Orleans.Mr. Hirt recognized Ms. Tobin and asked her to sing with the band. A recording of the show made its way to the jazz critic and producer George Simon, who asked her to record more songs and sing at jazz festivals.Ms. Tobin was reluctant, but Mr. Simon persuaded her to sing at smaller venues in New York until she felt up to performing before a large audience. In time her confidence returned, and she gave a stirring performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962.The jazz clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and Ms. Tobin at their wedding in 1967 in Littleton, Colo. He became her most enduring collaborator.Steve Larson/The Denver Post, via Getty ImagesWhile she rebuilt her career, Ms. Tobin began singing with Mr. Hucko’s ensemble. Mr. Hucko, who was best known for his stints alongside Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller and his appearances on Lawrence Welk’s television show, became her most enduring collaborator.After their marriage, they owned and ran a jazz club in Colorado, recorded tribute albums to Mr. Goodman and Mr. Armstrong and toured in Europe, Japan and Australia, where they performed for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. They often sang duets onstage, including a version of “When You’re Smiling,” which was on the 1992 album “Swing That Music,” their final studio recording together.Mr. Hucko died in 2003, after which Ms. Tobin retired.Mary Louise Tobin was born on Nov. 11, 1918, in Aubrey, Texas, north of Dallas, and grew up nearby in Denton. Her father, Hugh, died in a fuel truck crash when she was young, and her oldest brother, Ray, opened a drugstore to help support the family. The children often sang together, but Ms. Tobin was the only one who became a professional singer.She went on the road before completing high school, first traveling with an older sister as a chaperone. Her family was initially shocked by her marriage to Mr. James, but in time they accepted him.After their divorce, Ms. Tobin lived on alimony and what she earned from the occasional show or recording. But she spent most of her time caring for her two sons, including during a worrisome time. Mr. James had received threats that his children could be kidnapped, prompting Ms. Tobin to stay on the move. She lived with her boys in California for a time and enrolled them in military school. She spent two years traveling with them to places like Hawaii, India and Egypt.In addition to her sons she is survived by many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.In interviews, Ms. Tobin expressed little regret about her interrupted career and often said that she felt grateful that she had a part in big band jazz at the height of its popularity.“I feel like that was a real era of contribution to the culture of the world,” she said.Jack Kadden contributed reporting. More

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    Review: In ‘KPOP,’ Korean Pop and Broadway Meet (Too) Cute

    The worldwide sensation and American-style musical theater form an awkward alliance onstage.“A lot of people come to these things and they don’t even understand the language,” says Harry, a filmmaker who passes for the villain in the noisy yet skimpy new musical “KPOP.” “So what are they watching for?”Good question.For the record, the answer provided by Tiny, a member of a Korean pop group called RTMIS, is delivered, unlike a lot of the show, in English: “Perfection, Mr. Harry. OK?”And it’s true that if you enjoy the precision-drilled dancing, meticulous melisma and auto-tuned sentiments that have turned K-pop into a worldwide sensation over the past 10 years, you are likely to be among those cheering the musical’s Broadway incarnation, which opened on Sunday at Circle in the Square.But those who aren’t hard-core fans of the genre or don’t understand Korean — let alone those who saw the radically different and far superior Off Broadway version in 2017 — will have a harder time enjoying this one. For them, the musical is less an eye-opener than an ear-pounder, assiduously drowning out any ambitions it may once have had to be more.It can’t be lost on the creative team that in adapting their Off Broadway hit for a bigger and more conventional audience they courted the same fate as their fictional counterparts. Both then and now, the book of “KPOP,” by Jason Kim, concerns the efforts of a Seoul hit factory to push its stable of custom-groomed artists into crossover success in the United States. To do so, they are willing to sacrifice almost anything.That theme was given edgy, immersive expression in Teddy Bergman’s 2017 staging, produced by the experimental theater incubator Ars Nova in association with Ma-Yi Theater Company and Woodshed Collective. It imagined the audience as members of an itinerant focus group who, serving as emissaries of American taste, were led in small packs from space to space and given glimpses of what those sacrifices might mean.If some seemed silly, others were trenchant; an especially disturbing encounter involved a plastic surgeon. But by the time everyone assembled in one last room for a concert-cum-party, the giddy fun of the bubble-gummy songs (by Helen Park and Max Vernon) felt earned — even if the reversal was dramatically perplexing. Were we now celebrating what the rest of the show had encouraged us to disparage?That problem remains, with new ones added. To begin with, Bergman, directing again, faced an overwhelming difficulty in the fact that no Broadway theater could accommodate the immersive concept. Gabriel Hainer Evansohn’s set provides a partial solution: Instead of the audience moving, a tongue-shaped stage does, sliding back and forth bearing performers. And video screens mounted everywhere (Peter Nigrini is the projection designer) allow us to eavesdrop on the backstage action captured when Harry the filmmaker (Aubie Merrylees) goes rogue.Instead of the audience moving, a tongue-shaped stage does, sliding back and forth with the performers. Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe narrative frame was rebuilt less successfully. The audience, no longer a focus group, merely watches as a K-pop impresario named Ruby (Jully Lee) prepares for a concert that will introduce her stable of acts to America. There are three of them: the five-woman RTMIS (pronounced Artemis), the eight-man F8 (pronounced fate) and the solo diva MwE (pronounced mu-WEE) — an orphan Ruby has raised, Mama Rose-style, for stardom.MwE (played by the actual K-pop star Luna) has been reconfigured entirely. Her problem is no longer that she is aging out of pop credibility but that she wants creative freedom and a normal life with her boyfriend (Jinwoo Jung). Ruby ruthlessly tries to quash those dangerous ideas — love and creativity are not things a K-pop star can afford, she says — even as she complains about MwE’s failure to perform from the heart.This is familiar material, thinly delivered, and so is the dissatisfaction of the members of RTMIS, which is so vague and hastily resolved I barely caught what it was. Only among the members of F8 does the conflict feel fresh and worthy of exploration in song: Its seven longtime members resent the “new kid,” Brad, brought in to juice their American rollout. Biracial and Connecticut-raised, Brad (Zachary Noah Piser) is seen by the others as inauthentic; he isn’t even fluent in Korean.The songs, unfortunately, do not take up the challenge of investigating that issue, or any other. They are all diegetic — actual numbers performed by the characters — and are thus connected to the story, as in a jukebox musical, by only the feeblest of threads. When Brad tells the filmmaker that he grew up neither Korean enough for some nor American enough for others, and proceeds to sing a song called “Halfway,” we may expect an exploration of those feelings. But no, it’s a love ballad, addressed to a girl: “Can you meet me halfway, baby?”The same problem derails “Korean Man,” a song for F8 that you may think from the setup will express their assertion of national pride. As we learn from the parts of it that are performed in English, though, it’s mostly about having the “baddest swagger” and “bein’ a bad, bad boy.”Jully Lee, left, plays a K-pop impresario named Ruby, and the real-life K-pop star Luna plays MwE.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesWith their link to the drama severed, and the drama in any case attenuated, the songs cease to function as they normally do in musical theater and collapse into a concert. That’s true even before the final 20 minutes of the show, when the filmmaker plot is summarily abandoned and, with it, any pretense of plot.So that flashback scene in which Ruby tells MwE, at 13, that she’s a “disaster” with “tree trunk legs,” and a choreographer shouts that she’s shaming her parents? Forget about it. Come hear the band. (Actually, there are only three instrumentalists.)By then, if you are not a fan, you may feel worn out by the aggressive mimicry of the K-pop performance style, not just in the mostly electronic arrangements but also in the minutely detailed choreography by Jennifer Weber, the squint-inducing lighting by Jiyoun Chang and the hundreds of can-you-top-this costumes by Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi. In that environment it’s hard to say whether Brad’s “Halfway” and MwE’s “Mute Bird” — acoustic songs simply staged and feelingly delivered — are actually lovely or merely a relief.In its remaking for Broadway I wish “KPOP” had preserved more moments like that: moments that allow you to consider what the excitement of K-pop (for those who feel it) and the expressiveness of American musical theater (likewise) can profitably say to each other. Both have their fans and no doubt their glories, as well as their limitations. But it seems to me that in introducing the two, a good place to have met would have been, well, halfway. “KPOP” still has far to go to get there.KPOPAt Circle in the Square, Manhattan; kpopbroadway.com. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. More

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    A Scruffy Guitar Shop Survives the Chelsea Hotel’s Chic Makeover

    After a costly renovation, a landmark of Manhattan that was once home to Patti Smith and Bob Dylan is drawing a different crowd. Dan Courtenay, the proprietor of Chelsea Guitars, is fine with that.Ever since the Chelsea Hotel emerged from a long and costly renovation to become one of Manhattan’s trendiest playgrounds, the old hole-in-the-wall guitar shop on the ground floor has become an unlikely link to the building’s fabled bohemian past.Opened in the late 1980s, Chelsea Guitars has sold picks and strings to Patti Smith and Dee Dee Ramone. It started out as one of the hotel’s many street-level mom-and-pop shops. Now it’s the last one standing, a cluttered den of rare and vintage guitars that seems out of step with its chic surroundings. Hotel guests and out-of-towners who stumble into it, sometimes with one of the Lobby Bar’s signature $28 martinis swirling around in their bellies, are smitten by its scruffiness.Mr. Courtenay’s store occupies the small street-level space between the red awning of the freshly scrubbed bohemian landmark and the El Quijote restaurant.Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesA mannequin of Marilyn Monroe strumming a ukulele sits outside the shop’s entrance on West 23rd Street. The narrow interior has cracked marble floors, a slow-spinning ceiling fan and brick walls lined with pictures of Albert King, Elmore James and other blues greats.Emerging from one wall, trompe l’oeil style, is the head of a Tyrannosaurus rex nicknamed Stanley — a homage to the Chelsea Hotel’s former manager Stanley Bard, who sometimes accepted paintings in lieu of rent checks from the building’s eccentric tenants.After the hotel was closed to guests in 2011, the 12-story Gilded Age era building was shrouded in scaffolding and netting for years, as a faction of its rent-stabilized tenants tried to thwart a top-to-bottom renovation. BD Hotels, a boutique hotel firm in New York that operates the Bowery and the Jane, ultimately prevailed, and its sleekly reimagined Hotel Chelsea opened in the summer. The more than 40 tenants who remain in the building can now order room service.The hotel’s well-scrubbed appearance might have startled the artists who lived there when drug dealers roamed the stairwells and cheap rooms provided sanctuary for Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Robert Mapplethorpe. Suites start at around $700 a night.The elegant Lobby Bar serves the Edie ’67, a cocktail mixed partly with mezcal and Lapsang tea named after the Andy Warhol “superstar” Edie Sedgwick. El Quijote, the Spanish restaurant that was once the hotel’s sleepy canteen, has been overhauled into a culinary hot spot. The Bard Room, named in honor of Mr. Bard, who died in 2017, has been the site of parties for The New Yorker and the British fashion company Mulberry.Mr. Courtenay walks through the newly renovated lobby.Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesWhen two tourists from Poland, Irena Sierakowska and Przemyslaw Gulda, made a pilgrimage to the Chelsea on a recent day, they saw a doorman in a beanie cap and red gloves who greeted guests carrying shopping bags into the building. But they found the grit they were looking for when they walked into Chelsea Guitars.“When you live in Poland, your connection to New York is movies,” Mr. Gulda said. “But here, I walk in and feel like I’m in that movie. I think: This is it!”Ms. Sierakowska said she came to see the Chelsea Hotel because of a Leonard Cohen song, “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a 1974 ode to Janis Joplin written by Mr. Cohen, who lived for a time in Room 424.Behind the cluttered counter, a 68-year-old-man with long silvery hair and tinted glasses looked up from his bento box lunch. It was Dan Courtenay, the longtime owner of Chelsea Guitars. He told the couple that he once had a customer who recorded a famous cover of Mr. Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”“Jeff Buckley? Yeah, he used to come by here,” he said. “We’d do work on his guitars.”“Did you meet Marilyn?” he continued, referring to the kitsch statue out front. “I found her behind a trash can in Long Island. She’s pretty helpful, because I can tell anyone trying to find me, ‘Look for Marilyn.’”“People from all around the world, just like you guys, come to see the Chelsea Hotel, and then they end up in my shop,” he added. “To them, seeing the magical Chelsea Hotel, it’s like visiting what was once Oz — a downtrodden Oz.”As the couple, giddy from their contact high with a crustier New York, prepared to leave, Mr. Courtenay scribbled his number on a card and handed it to them.“If you get lost, or have any problems taking the subway,” he said, “call us.”If Chelsea Guitars has accrued cultural significance as an unkempt holdout in the newly pristine hotel, then Mr. Courtenay is its resident bard, eager to pass on the building’s mythology to anyone who enters his store, whether or not they buy a $6,000 1964 Epiphone Riviera or the other worship-worthy rare guitars on the walls. If you get him going, he’ll tell tales about what he says he has seen running the shop for more than three decades.Joan Baez once stopped by and gave him her Chinese takeout leftovers for lunch, he said. When the band Oasis was in town, Noel Gallagher came in and asked to see a rare Gibson acoustic stored away in the back of the shop. Mr. Courtenay was in a grumpy mood that day, so he told Mr. Gallagher to go fetch him a cup of coffee while he retrieved it.During Patti Smith’s brief residence in the hotel in the mid-1990s, her teenage son, Jackson, used to hang out in the shop playing Green Day riffs. And there was the time Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top dropped in before heading to El Quijote, where a confrontation ensued when the restaurant asked him to take off his signature tasseled cap.“They told him, ‘You’ve got to take off the hat,’” Mr. Courtenay recalled. “Billy said, ‘I don’t take this hat off when I’m sleeping.’”There was also the guitar busker named Vlad, who seemingly knew only a few chords and sang about his woes in a thick Eastern European accent at a nearby subway station, becoming known as the Polish Bluesman of Chelsea. There was also the mysterious woman who lived in the hotel, and who was rumored to come from wealth, whom Mr. Courtenay observed for years as she hailed invisible cabs outside the building. And there was the shop’s resident cat, a Russian blue named Boris.In addition to rare vintage guitars, Chelsea Guitars sells the small necessities.Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times“Boris had one tooth, no nails and one ear shot off,” Mr. Courtenay said. “He’d belonged to a troubled lady who lived upstairs. We kidnapped him to save his life.”“Boris despised dogs,” he continued. “He’d sit atop a Marshall amp and then leap onto any dog that came into the shop. He’d also take the elevator to visit people in the hotel. He’d go into El Quijote to say hello to customers. When I went to Paris, I discovered a postcard being sold to tourists, and to my shock, it was a picture of Boris at the Chelsea Hotel.”Rosanne Cash lives nearby with her husband, the musician and producer John Leventhal. In an email, she wrote: “We both appreciate the total anomaly Chelsea Guitars is in the current shiny, hip version of what Chelsea has become. We moved to Chelsea in ’96, and Dan’s blessed little hovel was a beacon and still connects us to the glorious grit.”Mr. Leventhal said: “Dan runs a freewheeling and almost improvisational kind of space. I often go there just to talk with him about life.”Mr. Courtenay grew up in Queens Village. His father was a police chief, and his mother worked as a secretary. He briefly lived in the hotel, in a terrace apartment just above his shop about two decades ago. “I used to go downstairs in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and I was still late for work,” he said. “I’ve been late my whole life.” He eventually moved to the nearby Penn South co-op houses, where he has lived ever since.He has no children and lives alone. He walks four blocks to work, rarely arriving before the princely hour of 2 p.m. And as far as he’s concerned, rock ’n’ roll died in 1971, when Duane Allman perished after a motorcycle crash — which explains why he had no clue who Nirvana were when the band walked into his shop at the height of their fame.But Mr. Courtenay’s Lebowski-like demeanor belies the determination that has allowed him to keep his shop in the hotel. He has survived two close calls so far.A smoker rests a hand on the old Marilyn Monroe statue outside his shop.Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesA photo in Chelsea Guitars shows the proprietor’s father, Daniel J. Courtenay, who was a police chief with the New York Police Department.Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesOriginally, Chelsea Guitars occupied a bigger space a few doors down from its current location. After the hotel’s board ousted Stanley Bard in 2007, however, many of the building’s artistic tenants felt that they had lost their protector. Then the families that had long owned the Victorian Gothic palace put it up for sale, resulting in the chaotic succession of ownership turnovers that transformed the hotel into an embattled construction site.In 2009, Mr. Courtenay learned that his lease wouldn’t be renewed. After the man who ran the building’s ground-floor Balabanis Tailor shop retired, he brokered a deal to move into the newly vacated space. El Quijote waiters helped carry his wares to the tiny new location.Four years ago, Chelsea Guitars was imperiled again. BD Hotels, the group that oversaw the renovation, reportedly planned to convert his shop into a building entranceway. This time, Mr. Courtenay took his plight to the press, and the resulting coverage in a neighborhood newspaper, Chelsea Now, created a groundswell of community support for his cause.BD Hotels offered him a five-year lease and didn’t raise his rent. Mr. Courtenay taped the newspaper’s follow-up article to his shop window. “Chelsea Guitars to Remain in Iconic Location” is the headline.Nevertheless, Mr. Courtenay — who stressed that he maintains amicable relations with his landlord — wonders what the fate of his shop will be in the chic haven that has risen around him, which is set to include a spa, a Japanese restaurant and a cafe.“I don’t know what will happen when my lease ends,” he said. “I like to think that they see we come with the hotel, but who knows. People have told me, ‘You could leave and start elsewhere.’ But to me, it’s all about the Chelsea Hotel or nothing. If I went elsewhere, I’d just be a guitar store.”Ira Drukier, the hotelier who owns the Hotel Chelsea with Sean MacPherson and Richard Born, said that Chelsea Guitars is a welcome holdout in his establishment.Stanley the T. Rex minds the store.Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times“The hotel has a long history, and he’s part of it in his own way,” Mr. Drukier said. “It just seems like the right thing to do is let him stay here and do what he’s been doing for so many years.” He added: “His spot is a tiny hole-in-the-wall. It’s not like I can fit some big restaurant in it.”One recent evening — not long after Michael Chaiken, who was the first curator of the Bob Dylan Archive, stopped by to drop off his Fender Telecaster — Mr. Courtenay needed to use the bathroom. Because his shop doesn’t have one, he stepped outside and went into the Hotel Chelsea.As he passed the grand double doors that lead to the Lobby Bar, a rowdy din emerged, so he decided to check out the scene. In the lounge, the host looked on as hotel guests had uni toasts and dirty martini oysters while telegenic 30-somethings waited for a seat at the bar.Mr. Courtenay’s customers have included Jeff Buckley, Rosanne Cash, Noel Gallagher, John Leventhal, Dee Dee Ramone and Patti Smith.Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesAs people brushed past Mr. Courtenay’s shaggy and lumbering figure, he mused on how the city’s nostalgists liked to dwell on the ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel.“There are people who still want this place to be closed up and for it to be the 1950s again,” he said. “Do I wish Stanley Bard was here? And that it was still the zany 1950s and that I was talking to Jackson Pollock? Yeah, I do. But I look at it now, and it’s full of life and people again, and that’s a wonderful thing.”“I already wept for this hotel’s past a long time ago,” he said. “And you can’t bring back the past.” More

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    ‘Gangnam Style’ Brought K-Pop to the World, but Haunted Its Creator

    In 2012, the song took over the internet, and it helped pave the way for the global success of Korean pop. But Psy, the artist behind it, spent years trying and failing to replicate the phenomenon.SEOUL — He may not look it, in a spiffy double-breasted suit and a coiffure secured with enough hair gel to reflect the ceiling lights, but the 45-year-old music executive confides a secret as he rubs his temples: He’s hung over.But he doesn’t mind nursing this headache, at well past 2 p.m. on a Thursday in Seoul. Some of his best songwriting ideas come to him, he said, in the malaise that follows a night of hard drinking.The man doing the creative suffering is Psy, the onetime global internet sensation whose 2012 viral music video and earworm of a song, “Gangnam Style,” became the first-ever YouTube offering to surpass one billion views and had the world galloping along with him.The outlandish but irresistibly catchy song and accompanying video — which has Psy doing the tune’s signature horseback dance move in and around Gangnam, an upscale Seoul neighborhood — achieved the breakthrough, worldwide success that had mostly eluded Korean pop acts, or K-pop, before then.The video, which now has some 4.6 billion views, was so culturally pervasive in 2012 that Barack Obama was asked about it on Election Day. NASA astronauts recorded a parody, and a North Korean state propaganda site evoked the dance move to mock a South Korean politician. But for several years in the aftermath of all his viral fame, Psy said, the song’s success haunted him. Even as he was thrust overnight into a Hollywood existence, getting chased around New York City by paparazzi, signing with Justin Bieber’s manager and releasing a single with Snoop Dogg, internally he felt the pressure mounting for another hit.Psy performing “Gangnam Style” live on NBC’s “Today” show in New York, in 2012. At the time, the video for the song had more than 200 million YouTube views; it now has more than 4.6 billion.Jason Decrow/Invision, via Associated Press“Let’s make just one more,” he says he kept telling himself.He moved to Los Angeles in an effort to get a global career going in earnest, an ocean away from his native South Korea, where he was both a fixture of the music charts and a source of comic relief on silly television variety shows. But none of the attempts came close to replicating the formula that made “Gangnam Style” a global success.Psy wasn’t alone in trying to figure out how to reproduce the phenomenon. In South Korea, not only the music industry but government officials and economists, too, were studying just what it was about the tune, the lyrics, the video, the dancing or the man that had vaulted the song to such singular levels of ubiquity.And in the decade since the song and video first put South Korea’s pop music on the map for many around the world, K-pop has become a cultural juggernaut, expanding out from markets in East and Southeast Asia to permeate all corners of the world.Artists like BTS and Blackpink command devoted fans numbering in the tens of millions, and the bands wield an economic impact that rivals a small nation’s G.D.P. The fervor has spilled over beyond music into politics, education and even Broadway.Some say Psy deserves much of the credit.“Psy single-handedly placed K-pop on a different level,” said Kim Young-dae, a music critic who has written extensively about the industry. The song was a “game changer” for the Korean music scene and paved the way for the groundswell of interest and commercial success that the South Korean stars who came after him experienced, Mr. Kim said.Now, 10 years on from his lightning-in-a-bottle moment, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, is back home in South Korea, where he has started his own music label and management company and is trying to recreate the magic with the next generation of K-pop talent as one of the industry’s tastemakers.“Let’s make just one more,” Psy said he kept telling himself after “Gangnam Style” became a phenomenon.Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“One of the things I love most about this job is that it’s unpredictable. We say among ourselves we’re in the ‘lid business’ — because you don’t know what you’ve got until you open it,” Psy said in an interview at the offices of his music label headquartered in — where else? — the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul. “You don’t know which cloud will bring the rain.” With 10 artists under his wing, including a newly minted six-member boy band, TNX, Psy says he feels immensely more pressure shaping and stewarding other people’s careers compared to when he was responsible for his alone.And while he can give his budding stars advice based on decades of industry experience, what he can’t do is offer them surefire instructions on making a hit record.For all the years he has spent thinking and talking about “Gangnam Style,” he remains just as mystified as anyone by its success.“The songs are written by the same person, the dance moves are by the same person and they’re performed by the same person. Everything’s the same, but what was so special about that one song?” Psy said. “I still don’t know, to this day.”Psy performing on the grounds of Korea University in Seoul in May.Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIn global terms, Psy and his “Gangnam Style” are the epitome of a one-hit wonder. But in South Korea, he had been well-known as a rapper and musician for a decade before, carving out a path that differed from many of his fellow performers, in that he didn’t count on a boost from his physical appearance or shy away from courting controversy.He never had the chiseled look sought after in South Korea’s pop music industry, and from the release of his first album in 2001, he became notorious for his blunt, profane and at times ribald lyrics. “I Love Sex” was one of the tracks on his debut album, “Psy from the Psycho World!” which was slapped with a ban on sale to minors at the urging of the country’s Christian Ethics Movement.Despite — or perhaps because of — his unapologetic, iconoclastic ways, over the past two decades at home in South Korea, the college dropout has consistently logged chart toppers, best-selling albums and sold-out concerts.“It’s kinda sorta ironic he became so iconic — he went from being occasionally censored to widely celebrated,” said Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a Seoul-based creative services agency that offers marketing and distribution solutions to Korean music artists and their labels. “He irreverently winked his way from being the bad boy of K-pop to the golden boy of K-pop.”For a pop song, “Gangnam Style” also unleashed an avalanche of deep think pieces and analyses on the various aspects of South Korea and Seoul it was said to be lampooning: the hypocrisy of the nouveau riche, the superficiality of its social standards and the inequality exemplified by the opulent Gangnam neighborhood.Psy insists the song never intended to deliver any profound social commentary — he was just looking to give people a few minutes of mindless hilarity and a reprieve from reality.If anything, he said, he was poking fun at himself, because he doesn’t aesthetically fit the bill of a posh Gangnam local.A decade on from his lightning-in-a-bottle moment, Psy has started a music label and talent management company. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“It’s funny because someone who doesn’t look like he’s ‘Gangnam style’ says he is,” he said.Initially targeted for development in the 1970s to expand Seoul south of the Han River, Gangnam has became a coveted address where many of the capital’s wealthy congregate and the best schools are concentrated, an educational disparity likely to ensure that the inequalities symbolized by the neighborhood continue into the next generation.In the years since Psy made Gangnam a globally recognized, if oft-mispronounced, proper noun (“Gang” sounds closest to the latter half of Hong Kong; “nam” like Vietnam), the neighborhood has gotten ever more unattainable for the average South Korean. Nowhere have runaway real estate prices risen as steeply as in the Gangnam area.“If you say you live in Gangnam, people look at you differently,” said Jin Hee-seon, a former vice mayor of Seoul and professor of urban planning at Yonsei University. “It’s an object of desire and envy.”Psy, raised in the greater Gangnam area in a family running a semiconductor business, now lives north of the river with his wife and twin daughters and says he spends little time thinking about the place.A bronze sculpture in Gangnam by the artist Hwang Man-seok, modeled after the signature “Gangnam Style” horse-riding hand motion.Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhat he has recently returned to is his signature live performances.His concerts are legendary in South Korea for raucous good fun. His music — loud and energetic — is often accompanied by dance moves just as outrageous, requiring him to jump, kick and wave his arms wildly in the air. During his six-city tour this year, his first since the pandemic, he said he was surprised to find his joints and limbs as nimble as ever in middle age.In his latest album released this April, his ninth, he collaborated with the rapper Suga of BTS on a single titled “That That.” In the music video, Suga comically duels — and kills — the blue tuxedo-wearing Psy of the 2012 video. (That video has accrued 369 million views.)As for the chase of global fame that once drove him nearly mad, he says he’s made his peace with its absence.“If another good song comes along and if that thing happens again, great. If not, so be it,” he said. “For now, I’ll do what I do in my rightful place.” More

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    Pablo Milanés, Troubadour of the Cuban Revolution, Dies at 79

    His music blended traditional idioms with pop inflections and social themes, earning him comparisons with Bob Dylan.Pablo Milanés, a Cuban musician whose blend of folk idioms, pop influences and themes of love both personal and patriotic earned him a reputation as the Bob Dylan of Latin America, died on Tuesday in Madrid. He was 79.His son Fabien Pisani confirmed the death, in a hospital, and said the cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder.Mr. Milanés, known to fans as Pablito, was a founding member of nueva trova, a musical movement that emerged in the late 1960s and infused traditional Cuban arrangements with social and political themes.He wrote songs to accompany the dramatic changes sweeping across Cuba in the wake of the 1959 revolution, making him and the two other founders of nueva trova, Silvio Rodríguez and Noel Nicola, its unofficial troubadours.“The success of Silvio and Pablo is the success of the revolution,” Fidel Castro said during a reception for Mr. Rodríguez and Mr. Milanés in 1984.Mr. Milanés, left, with his fellow nueva trova musician Silvio Rodríguez in 1983. “The success of Silvio and Pablo,” Fidel Castro once said, “is the success of the revolution.”Prensa Latina, via AP ImagesMr. Milanés’s influence spread beyond Cuba. As the revolutionary tides that swept over Latin America in the 1960s receded in the face of right-wing authoritarians in the 1970s, songs of his like “Yo No Te Pido” and “Cuba Va” became anthems of the continental left, sung in dissident meetings and among exile communities.“To millions of Latin Americans, Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanés and their guitars are as much a symbol of Cuba and its revolution as Fidel Castro and his beard,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times in 1987.With his gentle guitar work and a voice poised on the edge between tenor and baritone, Mr. Milanés performed songs that were not, on their surface at least, about class struggle and revolution, but instead about love, longing and the beauty of the Cuban countryside.In 1970 he wrote one of his most famous songs, “Yolanda,” dedicated to his wife at the time, Yolanda Benet, after the birth of their daughter Lynn.“This can’t be more than a song/I would like it to be a declaration of love,” he sang. “If you miss me I will not die/If I have to die I want it to be with you.”Nevertheless, his close identification with the Cuban government made him a controversial figure among Cuban Americans. He recorded almost 60 albums, but until recently they were hard to find in American record stores; those that made it north were often smuggled. He was largely unwelcome in Cuban exile communities, especially in Miami, and radio stations that played his music reported receiving threats afterward.Mr. Milanés performing in 1974 for an informal gathering including the Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, right, and the Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Puebla, third from right.Jose A. Figueroa/Prensa Latina. via Associated PressHe toured the United States several times, coming and going with the fluctuations in U.S.-Cuban relations. At a 1987 appearance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, a particularly passionate fan mounted the stage midsong, knelt before Mr. Milanés and placed a single red rose at his feet.“I am a worker who labors with songs, doing in my own way what I know best, like any other Cuban worker,” he told The New York Times after that show. “I am faithful to my reality, to my revolution and the way in which I have been brought up.”By the 1980s he had established himself as an ambassador of Cuban music. He put the music of Cuban poet-patriots like José Martí and Nicolás Guillén to song. He oversaw the Varadero International Music Festival, which brought leading artists from around Latin America to Cuba. And he released a series of albums that revitalized neglected Cuban musicians and styles, especially those who, like him, were rooted in the country’s Afro-Caribbean culture.His love for the revolution was not always requited. In 1965 the Cuban military sent him to a forced labor camp; he was one of tens of thousands of artists, intellectuals, priests and gay people deemed potentially subversive by the government.In the 1990s he founded a nonprofit, the Pablo Milanés Foundation, to promote Cuban culture. It supported artists, published books and produced a magazine, but the Cuban Ministry of Culture dissolved it after less than two years, without official explanation.He became more critical of the government in recent years, as occasional flare-ups in dissident activity were met with official repression. His stance drove a wedge between him and Mr. Rodríguez, his old ideological compatriot, who remained closely aligned with the government and even signed a letter in 2003 supporting the arrest of dozens of protesters.Mr. Milanés suffered several health setbacks over the last 20 years and moved to Spain in 2017 to receive medical treatment. He continued to tour Latin America but rarely returned to Cuba, though he did make one last appearance in Havana in June.Mr. Milanés had lived in Spain for some time and rarely returned to Cuba, but he did perform in Havana in June.Alexandre Meneghini/ReutersPablo Milanés Arias was born under auspicious signs for a future revolutionary: His birthday, Feb. 24, 1943, was the 48th anniversary of the Grito de Baire, the declaration of Cuban independence against the Spanish in 1895, while his birthplace, Bayamo, in southeastern Cuba, was a cauldron of Cuban revolutionary sentiment.His father, Angel Milanés Aguilera, was a saddler and leather craftsman for the Cuban army, and his mother, Caridad Arias Guerra, was a seamstress and dressmaker who traded one of her creations for Pablo’s first guitar.His mother supported him in other ways: When he was still young, she moved the family to Havana, where she entered him in musical contests and sent him to the city’s Municipal Conservatory of Music to study piano.When he was 12, he encountered a group of street musicians playing traditional Cuban music, and he persuaded his mother to let him leave school to start his career early.Mr. Milanés was married five times. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Pérez, and their children, Rosa Parks Milanés Perez and Pablo; his daughter Lynn Milanés Benet and son Liam, both with his second wife, Yolanda Benet; his children, Mauricio Blanco Álvarez, Fabien Pisani Álvarez and Haydée Milanés Álvarez, with his third wife, Zoe Álvarez; and his son Antonio, with his fourth wife, Sandra Perez. Another daughter with Ms. Benet, Suylén Milanés, died in January.In 1965 Mr. Milanés released “Mi 22 Años” (“My 22 Years”), the dewy-eyed lament of a young man who has already seen so much: “Long ago, I longed to find eternal bliss,” he sang. Threaded with Cuban folk and American jazz, it is considered the first nueva trova song.His international fame grew through the 1970s, alongside the promise and struggle of revolutionaries across the developing world who often looked to Cuba as their ideological lodestar. He sang to Cuban soldiers serving in Angola, and he toured the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.He won two Latin Grammys, both in 2006 — one for best singer-songwriter album, the other for best traditional tropical album.His turn away from the Cuban government coincided with Fidel Castro’s decision to step down that year, to be succeeded by his brother, Raúl, who promised significant reforms. When those promises went unfulfilled, Mr. Milanés spoke out.“When one thinks of the reforms, you think they’re going to come united with a series of freedoms, such as freedom of expression,” he said in an interview with El Nuevo Herald, a Miami newspaper, in 2011.But he remained a devotee of the revolutionary fervor of his youth, and he never lost his legions of fans on the left.When a reporter asked Michelle Bachelet, the left-leaning former president of Chile, in July about a proposed change to the Chilean Constitution, she said it reminded her of a line from one of Mr. Milanés’s songs.“It’s not perfect,” she said, “but it’s close to what I always dreamed of.” More

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    A Posthumous Solo Album Reveals a Jazz Star’s Melancholy

    Esbjörn Svensson found fame in Europe with his group E.S.T. But a newly released solo album, discovered by his wife, unveils more intimate piano work.Following the death of Esbjörn Svensson, a pianist and one of Europe’s most influential jazz musicians, in a scuba diving accident in 2008, his wife, Eva, spent some time in the family basement, backing up all of his tapes. Among them, she and the sound engineer Åke Linton found a corrupted Logic file and a scratched CD, both named “Solo.”Svensson recorded 11 studio albums with his trio E.S.T. over a 15-year recording period, but never solo work. It’s a different experience to hear her husband’s music outside of the trio, Eva said in a recent video interview.“It’s a new landscape to explore. And of course, a new landscape inside too,” she said, pointing to her heart.Both the intriguingly named CD and file were initially unusable, but in 2017, following Eva’s decision to revisit the tapes, Linton rescued the audio files, revealing nine near-pristine solo piano tracks, recorded a few weeks before Svensson’s death. The record, “Home.s.,” was released Nov. 18, and is just one of a recent series of projects exploring Svensson’s legacy as a genre-bridging artist.In 1993, Svensson and his childhood friend Magnus Öström, a drummer, met the bassist Dan Berglund, and formed the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. The group added the initials E.S.T. on its early albums, to shift the focus from Svensson and project a sense of equality among the three players.“It became a cooperative,” said the jazz journalist and author Stuart Nicholson in a telephone interview, adding “that is partly how the sound of the trio developed in such a distinctive manner.”From left, Magnus Öström, Esbjörn Svensson and Dan Berglund, of E.S.T.Tobias RegellThe trio was best known for its international breakthrough albums “From Gagarin’s Point of View” and “Good Morning Susie Soho,” which synthesized pop, rock and Nordic folk influences, and approached that blend “in the spirit of jazz” (the motto adopted by their label, ACT). Svensson may have wanted to share the spotlight, but E.S.T. gigs were high-production performances, combining tasteful light displays and smoke machines with accessible melodies to create an atmosphere closer to a rock gig.“You didn’t need to be a jazz lover to like their tunes,” said Linton, who was E.S.T.’s longtime sound engineer, in a recent video interview. The instrumental trio’s success meant jazz-based music became popular in the European mainstream. The 2005 record “Viaticum” charted on the German and French pop charts, and went platinum in Sweden, where it debuted at No. 5, just above U2 and John Legend.In 2006, the group’s first DownBeat Magazine cover bore the headline “Europe Invades!”, evidence of the slightly frosty reception the trio received from the jazz establishment in America, where it never had a high profile.No one around Svensson knew he was working on “Home.s.,” which was named by Eva. It was clear that tracks weren’t simply ideas destined for later exploration with the trio because of the files’ labeling, and the precise compositional structures. “He was a private person,” Linton said, adding that he “didn’t talk to anyone about it, not even his wife.”The album — which offers a handful of reference points from classical music and Nordic jazz, including Chopin and Shostakovich, as well as Jan Johansson’s popular 1963 album “Jazz På Svenska”— finds Svensson alone, in a melancholic musical space and has the distinct feeling of an artist delving into his private, interior language. “We’re almost privy to his innermost musical thoughts,” Nicholson said.But the sound of “Home.s.” was still familiar to those close to Svensson. Eva described the album’s music as “kind of the soundtrack to our daily lives.” After E.S.T. was done with a soundcheck, Svensson “would always stay playing stuff in the hall,” Linton said. “And now when I think of it, probably what was going on is that he was practicing this stuff without knowing it, but he would never talk about it.”Nicholson remembered spending time at an E.S.T. recording session in Stockholm, when Svensson warmed up with music by Shostakovich that demonstrated the full extent of his classical education, in a way he didn’t show with E.S.T. “When we met, I said, ‘How come you don’t reveal that part of you?’” Nicholson said. “He said, ‘That’s not me. I can do it, but that’s not how I feel things, and how I understand music.’”Despite the intimate feel of Svensson’s solo work, “when I found the album, I had this strong feeling that I wanted to share it,” Eva said.Esbjörn Svensson performing at a Spanish jazz festival in 2003. His trio E.S.T.’s popularity brought jazz-based music into the European mainstream.Rafa Rivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesTo premiere “Home.s.,” she wanted to create a shared experience, like an album listening party. It was first played in September at Stockholm’s Sven-Harry’s Museum, in surround-sound and accompanied by a new hanging sculpture by Jennie Stolpe, and later paired with visuals conceived by David Tarrodi (the director of the 2016 documentary, “A Portrait of Esbjörn Svensson”) and Anders Amrén (E.S.T.’s regular lighting designer) as part of an online event.The visuals arranged by Tarrodi and Amrén pick up on the melancholic tone of Svensson’s solo album. The pair’s 36-minute video piece began with small piles of sand, contorted kaleidoscopically through different lenses; then, sun-bleached footage of a family emerged; next, grainy footage of America, all soundtracked by the album. The sound was melancholic, the visuals muted, but the combination never descriptive or poetic.Andrew Mellor, the author of “The Northern Silence: Journeys in Nordic Music and Culture,” described melancholy in the region “as a discipline. It’s also a kind of pastime in Scandinavia.”One way to survive the “brutal” winter is through art, he added: “There’s literature from Ibsen and Knut Hamsun, films by Lars von Trier, and there’s music by Bent Sørensen.”On “Home.s.,” the melancholy twists inward. “It says ‘this is about me looking into myself, more than it is about me telling you a story,’” Mellor said.When Eva first heard the album, she thought “‘wow, this is his voice,’” she said. “It couldn’t be anybody else’s.” More

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    Review: At the Philharmonic, a Taste of Holiday Bounty

    Stéphane Denève leads a program of extravagantly colorful French works, with the pianist Víkingur Ólafsson as the soloist in a Ravel concerto.Thanksgiving came a day early at the New York Philharmonic this year: the calories, the juicy fat, the whipped cream, the fun, the sense of endless bounty. The orchestra’s program at David Geffen Hall on Wednesday was an immersion in richness and in flashing, warming colors, and it left you like a good holiday dinner does: a little dazed, even happily drowsy, stumbling toward the subway truly full.Conducted by Stéphane Denève, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony, the concert was très French — down to the tender Rameau encore played by the pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, who made his Philharmonic debut as the soloist in Ravel’s Concerto in G. (The program repeats on Friday and Saturday.)At the center of that concerto is a time-suspending Adagio. But in Ólafsson’s performance, the dreaminess — the slight blur, the delicacy — bled into the two outer movements, too. Some pianists lean on the factory-machine regularity, the bright lucidity, of those parts to hammer home a contrast with the slow movement. But, as he also showed in a very different repertory at his Carnegie Hall debut in February, Ólafsson resists vivid contrasts.It’s not that his touch is diffuse; it’s as clean as marble. And it’s not that the tempos he and Denève chose for the framing movements were slower than normal. But the effect Ólafsson got throughout, of a kind of virtuosic reticence, could be described in the same words I used for his performance in February: a “silk of sound, inward-looking and wistful in both major and minor keys, in both andante and allegro.”“Céléphaïs” (2017), a nine-minute section from Guillaume Connesson’s symphonic poem inspired by the fantastical writings of H.P. Lovecraft, opened the concert with an extravagance that offers proof of the survival of the orchestrational panache of the French tradition: its lurid lushness and sly squiggles, brassy explosions and sensual strings.Connesson’s precursors in that tradition got a hearing after intermission. The audience even got a second helping: The big, sweet slice of cake that is the Suite No. 2 drawn from Albert Roussel’s 1930 ballet “Bacchus et Ariane” was followed by another slice, the Suite No. 2 from another mythological ballet of the early 20th century, Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé.”On paper this seemed like overindulgence; it kind of was, but who doesn’t like their potatoes two ways every now and again? And while there’s a familial similarity between these works, Roussel’s style is ever so slightly more angular, with an underlying feeling of logic distinct from Ravel’s billowy scene painting.The Philharmonic played well throughout, riding the many waves and swerves of intensity and pigment, from dewy dawns to mellow dusks. There were some particularly notable contributions to the potluck: Ryan Roberts, just a few years into his tenure as the orchestra’s English hornist but already a pillar of the ensemble, matched Ólafsson’s eloquent introspection in the Ravel concerto’s slow movement.The principal flute, Robert Langevin, unspooled his instrument’s classic glistening solo in “Daphnis et Chloé” with conversational ease. Cynthia Phelps, the principal viola, had a russet-color turn in the Roussel, and Roger Nye, unusually seated in the first bassoon chair for that work, played with honeyed serenity.Unlike at most Thanksgiving dinners, by the end the fullness didn’t feel like bloat. The clear, cool acoustics of the new Geffen Hall work against textures getting too heavy; they favor breezy sleekness, which is perfect for Denève, whose music-making exudes relaxation without losing forward motion. A couple of hours later, I would have been more than ready to eat — I mean hear — some more.New York PhilharmonicThis program repeats through Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Manhattan; nyphil.org. More

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    The Soaring Legacy of Pablo Milanés

    While helping pioneer nueva trova — which combined Cuban son and guaracha with soul, jazz and folk rock — he alternated embrace and rejection of the government that once disciplined him.Pablo Milanés, who died in Madrid this week at 79, left behind a body of work that was deeply personal even as he navigated one of the 20th century’s most tumultuous political experiments, the Cuban Revolution. His career was an open dialogue with the revolutionary government that had once disciplined him, then propped him up as one of its most powerful ideological icons. More recently Milanés, who moved to Spain several years ago to seek cancer treatment, resumed his critical stance toward the Cuban government. But he never renounced his artistic labor, that of the singer with a story to tell about loves lost and won, a towering voice with a guitar and a sense of poetry and swing.While some may define Milanés’s career as a product of a Cuban reality, long estranged from the United States, his art and its appeal had broad international repercussions. Having begun his career in his hometown, Bayamo, singing boleros and Mexican rancheras, he eventually collaborated with Latin American legends like the recently departed Gal Costa, as well as Milton Nascimento, Lucecita Benítez and Fito Páez. As one of the originators of the post-revolutionary genre nueva trova, he combined elements of Cuban son and guaracha with soul, jazz and folk rock.His “Son de Cuba a Puerto Rico” from 1978 immediately changed the way I thought about the Caribbean’s sea-disrupted continuity, and the still-unfolding story of two former Spanish colonies. With its opening lyric — based on a poem by the early 20th-century Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió — proclaiming that the two islands were “two wings of the same bird,” the song was an emotional reverie about divergent destinies and a desire for a shared future. “I invite you on my flight,” he crooned, “and we’ll search together for the same sky.”Milanés’s first successful recording, “Mis 22 Años” (“My 22 Years”), released in 1965, was emblematic of the role he played in the evolution of trova in Cuba. The original trovadores were migrant troubadours who also dabbled in bolero and bufo, a kind of satirical musical theater, gradually incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms. By the late 1940s, an update of trova called filin (a Spanish spelling of “feeling”) emerged, influenced by American jazz singers like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. “Mis 22 Años” is grounded in filin, yet some consider it the first nueva trova song.The nueva trova movement was supposed to represent a break from older traditions of socially conscious music in Cuba and help to define the “New Man” promoted by its leaders. It was a genre cobbled together from the voices of children of the revolution, some singing its praises, others challenging what they saw as restrictions. Milanés was deemed to be rebellious and, according to a 2015 interview he gave to El País, he spent time in UMAP, a forced labor camp where dissidents and homosexuals were sent.Milanés onstage in Spain in 2021. His striking tenor was all the more powerful when it wavered in emotion.Miguel Paquet/EPA, via ShutterstockIn the 1970s nueva trova became a major force in Cuban music, with Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez, who openly borrowed from American folk-rock artists like Bob Dylan, its leading figures. While Milanés and Rodríguez often worked together and supported each other, in some ways they symbolized Cuba’s racial complexity. Milanés set poems by the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén to music and collaborated with the Afro-Cuban filin singers Elena Burke and Omara Portuondo, while the lighter-skinned Rodríguez was famously connected with the folk singer Pete Seeger.Milanés was most effective when he reached into those deeper recesses where Black singers find soul, like Al Green at his most yearning. His striking tenor was all the more powerful when it wavered in emotion — a slight trill paints the chorus of songs like “Yolanda,” dedicated to his former wife. In “La Vida no Vale Nada,” which insists that life has no value as long as there are victims of violence and the rest of us remain silent, Milanés is perhaps at his heart-aching best, sharply poignant, wounded yet determined.Milanés’s syncopated swing and filin-flavored nueva trova translates a little more easily to the Puerto Rican wing of his mythical Caribbean bird. In 1994, a new salsa version of “Son de Cuba a Puerto Rico” was recorded by the Afro-Cuban singer Issac Delgado on “Con Ganas,” which was distributed by the U.S. label Qbadisc; it introduced him to American listeners and remains popular in Puerto Rico. In the improvisational section, Delgado name-checks the Puerto Rican favorites Rafael Hernández, Tite Curet, Cheo Feliciano and Ismael Rivera, and the rhetorical feel of the original becomes more of a dance party.In the mid-1980s, Milanés wrote a song called “Yo Me Quedo” (“I’m Staying”), which resonated deeply with Puerto Ricans because it expressed a desire not to leave the Caribbean island that birthed him, seemingly intended to discourage out-migration. He even performed it in Puerto Rico, riding on its wave of loyalty and patriotism as he marched through reasons — the fragrant humidity, the “small, silent things” — that made it impossible to leave. A few years later, the Puerto Rican salsero Tony Vega covered it, indulging in all the materialist trappings of 1980s “salsa sensual,” yet still resonating with locals, losing nothing in the cross-Caribbean translation.With Milanés’s passing, the contradictions of his life, and the juxtaposition of Cuba’s and Puerto Rico’s fates come into sharper focus. While the islands feature vastly different political systems, both struggle with electrical blackouts, economic austerity and often harsh living conditions that increasingly generate street protest.Yet even as Milanés continued to speak out against the Cuban government, he was still allowed to return as recently as 2019 to perform massively popular concerts in Havana, performing classics like “Amo Esta Isla” (“I Love This Island”), a song he wrote around the same time he recorded “Yo Me Quedo.” It was a moment when ideology took a back seat to Milanés’s unparalleled talent as a troubadour of love, compelling everyone to reach for the sky. More