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Living at NYPL Archives & Manuscripts
Marco Rizo

Marco Rizo was born in Santiago, Cuba, in 1920. His father Sebastian, the principal flutist with the Santiago Symphony, provided Rizo with his early music education. In addition to playing with his father’s jazzband, Rizo studied classical music, and became an important classical pianist by the age of 16. In 1938 he moved to Havana where he joined the city’s Philharmonic as the official pianist. He then immigrated to the United States in 1940, and studied at Juilliard until 1942, when he joined the war effort as a performer in the 2d Army Military Band.

After World War II, his childhood friend, Desi Arnaz, invited Rizo to join his band on tour. This engagement evolved into Rizo’s work on I Love Lucy as the musical director, a position he held for the entire run of the television series (1951-1957). During these years he continued his musical training at UCLA, working under Igor Stravinsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Rizo’s career also centered on the arrangement of music, and he arranged songs for a great number of personalities, as well as motion picture studios.

In the early 1970s, one of Rizo’s jobs was as the musical director, and sometimes performer, for the Royal Viking Sea cruise ship. During the 1980s Rizo established the South American Music Project, Inc., through which his band visited public schools in New York City (as well as other locales) to teach children about Latin music. His programs enabled each student to learn how to play a Latin percussion instrument, and learn how to play as a group. Recitals were often held to showcase the children’s love of this music.

Rizo’s prolific career as a composer and arranger generated 30 albums, and he was an active performer into his later years. His last album, titled Habaneras, consisted of Cuban classical music, and it was released shortly before his death on September 8, 1998.



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