Gloria Alcazar made San Jose Serenaders into a superstar band.
So says the legendary band’s co-founder Lennox Flores.
Flores started San Jose with his brother Wayne in 1959. Back then they were one of many parang bands on the island exclusively fronted by male lead singers.
“We started in the 50s with house to house parang. We was just one of many bands at the time and we were doing okay,” an animated Flores recounted during an intriguing phone call with the Kitcharee on Thursday.
Flores, 80, then made what was at the time an unconventional decision to opt for a female lead. It was a choice that catapulted them to top billing and made them a household name on the island.
“I started singing parang at age seven and there were never any women in the bands. The women would carry paime and pastelle. If they did sing, it would be the chorus,” Flores continued.
He recalled great feelings of nervousness within the band as they prepared to usher Gloria Alcazar into the spotlight.
“A woman lead singer. I didn’t know how the masses would react to that. But Gloria was a special talent and she took charge,” he revealed.
Gloria was a calculated gamble
Wayne Flores had spotted the charismatic singer during a train ride to Port of Spain. She was already “train famous” as her singing drew commuters to her carriage daily, Flores recounted.
“She used to carry her cuatro like how somebody would carry a handbag. The carriage used to be quiet until she start playing the cuatro and everybody would leave the other carriages and pack into her carriage to hear her play. She had that appeal,” Flores said.
A superstar in the making
Gloria Alcazar spent her early years between Trinidad and her birthplace Maracaibo, Venezuela. Her father was originally from Tunapuna and her mother from Columbia. Alcazar, at first, spoke only Spanish and her father eventually sent her to live in Trinidad so she could learn to speak English fluently.
Alcazar was well-versed in the traditional songs and sounds of the rural Venezuelan town.
With Alcazar at the helm, San Jose Serenaders won the inaugural National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT) parang competition in 1971. They followed that milestone with seven consecutive wins.
“She was a super talent. This lady came and in ten minutes she compose a whole tune. We went into competition and people like her. Everybody around her liked her. You go to a party everybody want to be her friend and she like to drink rum too bad,” Flores remembered with a sly laugh.
Flores said Alcazar played an integral role in the development of another female parang icon: Daisy Voisin.
“Her signature ‘Ayee!’ The flower in her hair. The way she held the cuatro. The way she spoke between songs. All that Daisy pick up from Gloria,” Flores said.
Flores said the two stalwarts became close friends near the end of Gloria’s life and spent a considerable amount of time together. Gloria sadly, passed away from cancer in 1981. Her songs “Mi Negrito”, “Parang, Parang, Parang” and “Granada” remain standards of the genre to this day.
“Just about that time (of her terminal diagnosis) Daisy was introduced to her. Daisy used to leave quite Siparia to come Tunapuna Road to talk to Gloria. Today the younger ones know about Daisy but they don’t know about Gloria,” Flores said.
Following Gloria’s passing a young Sharlene Flores was groomed into the position of band lead vocalist. Lennox Flores said he would always remember Gloria as a true one-of-a-kind.
“There are so many memories. She was it. We had a lil band with no female singers at all and one day she come in there and change the whole thing. She caused an impact anywhere she go.
“Things have changed so much. The amount of parang bands it have now, but nobody knows Gloria Alcazar. They forget the name. But I remember when everybody wanted to see the fat lady sing, when everybody wanted to have a piece of Gloria. I could still hear them saying: ‘Look the woman with the cuatro coming,” Flores concluded.