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"You can be in little small studio thinking only la cucaracha will listen, and it can go all over the world," says Charoof her acclaimed 1994 album Guitar Passion. Or, rather, "enthuses" Charo. Or, "gushes" Charo. By phone from Los Angeles, she describes performing recently for an international convention audience in Puerto Rico: "I was so happy because I speak the best English! Everyone is from Sweden, Italy, even Japan -- their English sucks! I feel like Shakespeare." In her charmingly fractured accent, the name comes out "Shag-ez-spear."

Charo began life as Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza in southeastern Spain, the daughter, according to her Web site bio, of a lawyer who lived in exile in Casablanca until after Franco's death. While in Catholic school, Charo (a nickname she picked up as a child) learned classical Spanish guitar at the knee of Andres Segovia and had recorded albums and appeared in films and on TV before she was out of her teens.

Having come to America as a soloist for -- and wife of -- bandleader Xavier Cugat, it's not surprising that Charo is less than impressed by the current talk of the Latin Music Invasion. "When I first come here, and say I play flamenco, everybody thinks I say 'flamingo.' Now everyone wants flamenco! Salsa! Ricky Martin! But Latin music was brought to this country by a man named Xavier Cugat."

Several successful Latin-disco solo albums on Salsoul Records followed her departure from Cugat, as did a fruitful career as a kitsch-TV icon. Charo logged innumerable appearances on Chico and the Man, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show, Johnny, Merv, Dave, the Jerry Lewis telethons, and, for whatever the distinction is worth, more episodes of The Love Boat than any other guest star. She also turned up in such films as The Concorde -- Airport '79, Moon Over Parador and, in voice only, Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina.

In the mid-'80s, Charo relocated with her family to Kauai, Hawaii, opened a restaurant called Charo's and became a top tourist draw in the island state. Her proudest career achievement, however, may be her classical guitar album, Guitar Passion, which won Pop Album of the Year (Female Artist) at the 1995 Billboard International Latin Music Conference. A second volume of Guitar Passion is slated for release this spring.

It's this non-kitschy, musical-artist side that Charo promises to show in her Saturday, February 26, concert at the Sundome, at which she will be accompanied by a smaller ensemble: "I only have six specialists, because if you go for quantity and not quality, you get a salad of disturbing sounds," she notes. "But the show has those beautiful, romantic songs, like the '30s and '40s, like Cugat in the Waldorf, songs like 'Mambo No. 5,' but with a new, high-tech sound. I play Ravel's 'Bolero' as flamenco, and Joaquin Rodrigo's 'El Concierto de Aranjuec.' Beautiful, immortal music."

Of performing in the Valley, she gushes, sweetly if inaccurately: "I love Phoenix! Everybody there talks like me!"

Charo is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26, at the Sundome, 19403 R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. Tickets are $16, $19 and $24. For details call 623-975-1900 (the 'dome) or 480-503-5555 (Dillard's).

 
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