Don Antonio Chacón
Antonio Chacón García, born in 1869 in Jerez de la Frontera, was awarded the title of Don, suggesting that he was of superior status as a singer. He was one of the masters of flamenco song and also one of the most important figures in the creation and preservation of flamenco singing. He was born in the San Miguel district of Jerez; an area that today still bears many memories of the man that many argue was the best ever singer of flamenco.
Antonio Chacón was not of gypsy blood and his voice was not afilla; instead he had a cleaner, higher pitched voice that was more suited to cante andaluz.
He spent his childhood in his fathers shoe shop in Jerez, the place where he met the guitarist Javier Molina, and these two would go on to forge a partnership without comparison.
Against the will of his parents he started to frequent the taverns and juergas and at the age of fourteen he received his first break with the help of the gypsy singer Enrique el Mellizo.
El Mellizo had heard Antonio sing and convinced his father that the boy should accompany him to Cadiz to perform in the café cantantes, and so his artistic career began and he was paid the sum of seven pesetas a night for his efforts. He was hired by the Café Burrero in Seville and he was soon on his way to becoming one of the most revered names in the history of flamenco song.
He was later hired by Franconetti to perform in the café Silverio’s, and he also performed regularly in the Café de Chinitas in Málaga.
Don Antonio Chacón left his hometown of Jerez de la Frontera and travelled around Andalucia with Javier Moilna studying the different styles of flamenco.
He visited some of the most obscure villages and towns in his search for different forms of cante that were in danger of extinction and he revived many old styles of cante that had long been forgotten by the commercial world.
He became a master of many styles and his acquaintance with Enrique el Mellizo, gave him an excellent source from which he based his creations.
In his early days a young Chacon performed only the cante gitanos, but with his clean falsetto voice, it soon became obvious that he was not suited to this style of flamenco.
Antonio Chacón was credited with the creation of the Granaina, a form of fandango, which he based on the melody of the malagueña. He was also responsible for inventing a style of caracol and cartegenera song.
He became one of the most educated singers around, drawing his knowledge from his journeys around Andalucía, and from his place of birth, the heart of gypsy flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera
He often astounded his gypsy companions with his vast knowledge of the gypsy songs but although his knowledge was vast his voice was more suited to the cante andaluz.
Chacon became known as the gentleman cantaor because of his dignified and passive nature and he was the first singer to use grammatically correct Spanish in the words of his songs. Until then a rather low class mixture of gypsy and andalucian slang was traditionally used in the lyrics of flamenco.
He eventually achieved such refinement with his flamenco that the prefix of “Don” was attached to his name, which in those times was strictly reserved for those of blue blood. To this day Antonio Chacon remains the only flamenco artiste to receive this honor.
In 1922 Antonio Chacon formed part of the jury that presided over the Concurso de Cante Jondo which was held in the grounds of the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
His dislike of phonographic records resulted in him only recording four records, this was only done when his health and fame were fading, but these recording apparently do not show his full potential.
He has been referred to by the masses as the greatest singer of flamenco that ever lived, but it is fact that Don Antonio Chacon was far surpassed by other gypsy singers in the cante gitano. It may be fairer to say that Chacon was the greatest singer of cante andaluz, as he excelled in, and his voice was far more suited to these styles.
Antonio Chacon died in Madrid in 1929, with barley enough money in his pocket to buy bread, the way most of the greats of flamenco seem to depart, but he was sincerely mourned throughout the flamenco world.