Fernando J. Montilla, one of the last great record pioneers whose Spanish music became the soundtrack for the Academy Award winning film, “Around The World In 80 Days” died here Tuesday. He was 99. His company Montilla Records was among the first established in the U.S and the Montilla Label was nothing short of a crescendo reaching international fame as he discovered and recorded many Latin artists such as Perez Prado.
In the 1950’s, Montilla traveled to Spain to record world famous Flamenco guitarists Carlos Montoya, Andres Segovia and Sabicas and in 1977, Billboard Magazine published a full-page feature on The Montilla label. “Dad was not a showoff and never cared for the Limelight,” said his son Fred Montilla, who following in his dad’s footsteps, manages many top entertainers himself.
Montilla was born May 30, 1915 in San Juan Puerto Rico. In the 1920’s he traveled to New York where NBC hired him as a radio engineer working with such major radio stars as Dinah Shore, Perry Como, and the world famous Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini, who recognized Montilla’s great “EAR” for sound and balance on radio and encouraged him to pursue a career in recording music.
For a while Montilla worked at Bell labs, becoming what many consider “one of the forefathers in Stereo Imaging.” In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a radio engineer on blimps until promoted to Lieutenant Commander, he was assigned to set up the Navy’s radar system in Brazil.
After the war he returned to NBC, then relocated to Havana Cuba to work with WCMQ radio as a sound engineer and to set up their radio station. There he began to record young Cuban artists like Bola De Nieve and the legendary Benny More. Returning to New York with his wife Margaret and son, Fernando Jr., he started Montilla Records, Inc. and discovered one of the world’s greatest tenors, Alfredo Kraus, signing him to a recording contract.
Montilla continued to build his catalog of musical recordings producing over 150 records of music from Spain. Montilla music became so popular that NBC created a weekly midday Sunday radio show called “Montilla Records presents music from Spain” In 1965, Montilla moved back to Puerto Rico to open the largest Recording Studio and Tape and Record Manufacturing Complex in Latin America. He acquired exclusive licensing & manufacturing rights for Latin America from A&M Records, Motown Records, ABC Records and, Blue Thumb. He recorded legendary Puerto Rican artist Rafael Hernandez’s last record.
In the 1980s Montilla moved his operation to Miami recording music well into his 80’s.
Montilla was married 57 years to his wife Margaret, who predeceased him 11 years ago. He is survived by his four children, Fernando Junior and wife Tracy, Arlene, Edward and Michael and his 5 grandchildren, Jason, Marina and husband Adam, Alex, Harmony and Mila.
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