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Song of the Day for July 15: "Guantanamera" with The Sandpipers

The Song of the Day, “Guantanamera,” means “the girl from Guantanamo.” But it has nothing to do with the U.S. military base on the island.

The tune goes back two centuries to the 1800s. It’s considered the most popular song in Cuba. Joseita Fernandez Diaz gets writing credit for the song. He was a popular band leader who rearranged the song in 1932 for his popular radio show.

Julio Orbon wrote the most famous lyrics, using a Jose Marti poem. It tells the story of a girl from Guantanamo through the point of view of a Cuban revolutionary. Orbon taught the song to his student Hector Angulo, at the Manhattan School of Music. Angulo played the song for folk singer Pete Seeger on July 15, 1962. Seeger liked the song so much he began playing it at concerts, introducing it to U.S. music fans.

The timing was perfect. The world teetered on nuclear war a few months later thanks to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The song became a kind of peace anthem, even though it wasn’t about peace. Songfact.com said the song caught on because it was a Cuban song that had a catchy chorus some Americans knew.

The folk group the Sandpipers had the most successful version in the U.S. The song reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. It reached number seven in England.

The song lives on through more than oldies radio. English soccer fans used the tune to honor one of its soccer stars, changing the words to "One Alan Shearer... There's only one Alan Shearer." Sweden used the tune for its recycling campaign, singing “Pantamera,” which means “recycle more” in Swedish.

Fridays are when we enjoy a new weekly series that's part history, part trivia, and ALL music. The series features selections from former News-Press editor Sheldon Zoldan's '"Song of the Day." The initiative began as a daily lockdown project on Facebook at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, through which Zoldan highlights how every aspect of life has a connection through music.