November 6, 2014 – Manitas de Plata was born Ricardo Baliardo on August 7th 1921 in a gypsy caravan in the Mediterranean city of Sète in southern France. He became world famous as Manitas de Plata, the French gitano flamenco virtuoso guitarist, arguably second only to Django Reinhardt
He initially became famous by playing each year at the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Gypsy pilgrimage in the Camargue, where he was recorded live by Deben Bhattacharya and only agreed to play in public ten years after the death of Django Reinhardt.
He recorded his first official album in the chapel of Arles in France, in 1963, for the Phillips label. Upon hearing him play at Arles in 1964, Pablo Picasso is said to have exclaimed “that man is of greater worth than I am!” and proceeded to draw on the guitar.
Manitas de Plata garnered fame in the United States only after a photography exhibition in New York, organized by his friend Lucien Clergue. He had recorded his first official album in the chapel of Arles in France, in 1963, for the Dutch Phillips label. It was later re-released, in 1967, by the Connoisseur Society label and sold through the Book of the Month Club. This was a popular LP that brought him to the attention of an American audience. An American manager obtained a booking for him to play a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York on November 24, 1965. From there on he toured the world many times performing at top venues such as Carnegie Hall, New York and the London Palladium. He sold close to 100 million records during is lifetime.
Manitas de Plata was the father of Jacques, Maurice, and Tonino Baliardo and uncle to Paul, François (Canut), Patchaï, Nicolas and André Reyes (the sons of his cousin, flamenco artist José Reyes (1928-1979) ), all members of the worldfamous rumba flamenca band Gipsy Kings.
Manitas de Plata died in a retirement home in Montpellier on 6 November 2014 at age 93. The cause of death was not disclosed, but de Plata had been in poor health since suffering a severe heart attack in April 2013.
Despite acquiring a fortune as one of France’s best-selling recording artists, he died practically penniless — spending his fortune on “roulette, fancy cars, going out and beautiful women,” according to his great nephew Ricao Bissiere, who added with an admiring smirk:”He loved life. He was a character.”