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The Myrtle Mystery Is Solved

South American Way by Paquita & Zarate by tajmahalfoxtrot1

Myrtle Watkins


A few months ago, I wrote here about the singer Myrtle Watkins, who performed at the Taj in Bombay during the winter of 1935. She had made her reputation as a jazz singer in Europe but then, in a transformation I couldn’t quite track in the archives, seems by the late 1930s to have started performing Latin American music under the name Paquita, along with her husband, the Mexican violinist Sam Zarate.

Between November 1941 and December 1942, Paquita and Zarate cut more than a dozen discs in India, backed by the African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford, like the one above,  South American Way.  The confusion about the performer’s identify arose when a discography published in the jazz magazine Storyville said that Paquita was actually the stage name for Myrtle Watkins. But I wasn’t able to find other evidence for this, and the photos I had of Paquita and Watkins (reproduced above) were too indistinct to be able to make a clear identification either way.


Paquita Singh, International Woman of Mystery

This week’s selection from the Marco Pacci archives features two tunes  recorded in Calcutta in 1941 by a mysterious duo who called themselves Paquita and Zarate. Both the melodies are swing standards, though as this postcard they signed for an Indian fan shows, the vocalist and her violin-playing partner are dressed up to perform Latin American numbers. In fact, an advertisement I found on the internet states that they perform Mexican song, music and dance.

I haven’t been able to find out much about the pair, except for stray references to them in Billboard magazine in the 1950s. Even their first names are unknown. One advertisement in 1958 boasts that Zarate and Paquita were “widely known as concert artists and nightclub entertainers [and] are also known as composers and recording artists”. They had evidently released a religious album “containing the hymns and prayers embracing the faith of all people”. The ad said that the record was “receiving favourable comment from all who have heard it and those who already have it in their homes say it should be in all homes”. Other Billboard articles suggest that they spent the 1950s as performers at variety shows in the US that featured jugglers and magicians, in addition to musicians.

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