Perez Prado was the King of the Mambo, although he didn't invent it. Technically, the Mambo appeared on the scene in 1938, as a danzón written by Orestes and Cachao López. Orestes López is considered to be the father of the Mambo.
But Perez Prado brought it to the world. Mambo, which means "conversation with the gods", is the name of a Haitian Voodoo Princess. The López brothers introduced rhythms derived from African folk music into the traditional Cuban danzón.
Perez Prado spread the Mambo to the world. He was the first to call his music Mambo, and he introduced a dance to his nightclub act in 1943. When he left Cuba for Mexico in 1948, he took the Mambo with him. He had a band and a contract and recorded Mambo for RCA Victor. These recordings were broadcast on Spanish radio in New York and LA. Others heard the mambo and recorded versions for mainstream release. Prado caught on and began recording for and touring in the American Market.
The Mambo swept the country in the early fifties. New York called it "Mambomania". There were hugely popular Mambo nights at the Park Plaza Ballroom in Manhattan and the Palladium. Katherine Dubham hosted Prado and his orchestra at her dance studio on 43rd and Broadway. The cultural elite of New York came to Mambo.
Prado had huge hits with "Mambo Number 5", "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White", and "Patricia", among others. Other mainstream artists wanted into the act. Eartha Kitt recorded "Mambo de Paris". Rosemary Clooney recorded "Mambo Italiano", which Dean Martin picked up on. Even crooner Perry Como joined the fun, with a novelty song called "Papa Loves Mambo".
Mambo enjoyed a resurgence in 1999, when German born Lou Bega recorded a remake of Mambo No. 5, adding his own lyrics along with a bevy of lovely Mambo dancers. The result was a monster hit that hit #1 on most European charts, spent 20 weeks at number 1 in France and hit #3 in the US. The song also spent 50 weeks on the chart in England.
For a fun look back at Mambomania, here are some clips. First up, Mexican film star Lilia Prado dances to Mambo No. 5 in the 1950 film "Pobre Corazón"
Rosemary Clooney shows her Italian heritage (huh?) with "Mambo Italiano":
Dean Martin gives his try at the same:
And my personal favorite, crooner (and all around nice guy) Perry Como with "Papa Loves Mambo:
A look at the recent past, with Lou Bega's very catchy 1999 version:
Now try and get that rhythm out of your head.