Renowned American Flamencologist Donn Pohren Dies in Madrid

Madrid, Spain – American writer and well-known Flamencologist Donn Pohren died in Las Rozas [a Madrid suburb] on November 5, 2007. His wife, Luisa Maravillas provided a brief statement: "I regret to inform you all that Don passed away the 5th of November, during the night. Sometime in the near future I intend to organize a gathering of friends and aficionados in Las Rozas."

Donn Pohren was regarded as one of the leading experts in Flamenco in the English language and wrote several influential books about the subject. "Donn Pohren’s book was the first thing I bought when arriving in Andalucía, before I even knew how much my life would be involved with and changed by flamenco. It helped me understand a lot that was to come," says British expatriate Kate Edbrooke, who runs a recording studio in Granada and has produced several Flamenco recordings by local artists.

Pohren fell in love with Flamenco in 1947, when he attended a performance by Carmen Amaya, while he was on vacation in Mexico. He learned how to play flamenco guitar in 1951 from Spanish expatriates living in Mexico. 

In 1953, he decided to continue his flamenco studies in Spain and never left. Pohren  published his first book on Flamenco, The Art of Flamenco, in 1962, under the name D.E. Pohren. The first edition of another noteworthy book, Lives and Legends of Flamenco, came out in 1964. There was a third book of his Flamenco trilogy, A Way of Life, which was published in 1980. Throughout the years there were several editions of the significant The Art of Flamenco and the second English edition of Lives and Legends of Flamenco came out in 1988, after being out-of-print for many years.

"A certain entrepreneurial spirit (Pohren had tried his hand at running a couple of small flamenco clubs) led naturally to a brainstorm that would permit him to make a discreet living while indulging his passion for flamenco," says De writer Estela Zatania. "He opened a country boarding-house known as the Finca Espartero which combined flamenco instruction with generous dollops of "the flamenco way of life" just outside one of Flamenco’s hotspots, Morón de la Frontera (Sevilla).

"I met Donn in August, 1968 at his home at Finca Espartero just outside Moron," says Jerry Lobdill. "I shook hands with him, and then he disappeared for the rest of the evening. It was about 11:30 PM, and a friend and I had just rolled in from Madrid. A party was in full swing, and Diego, in a gray suit was playing. He’d play a while in one room and then in another. I had the distinct pleasure of watching him up close as he played bulerías for the better part of 10 minutes. I remember it as if it happened yesterday and as if Diego played played for an hour. There was a full moon casting magical light over the red hills covered with olive groves. In the distance a neighboring finca shone white in the moonlight.

I’ll never forget that night and the next, which we spent in the Bar Pepe," adds Lobdill. "I never saw Pohren again, but the memory of that experience steeping in the ambiance of the flamenco scene that, but for Donn Pohren, would not have been available to many of us Americans, is sufficient to make me grateful for Donn’s life and his passion for
the art and the life of flamenco

Pohren married Spanish dancer Luisa Maravilla and, after living in Morón de la Frontera and other parts of Spain, he moved to the Madrid area, where he lived until his final days.

His books have won national prizes in Spain, and Pohren was declared "Flamencologist" and admitted into the Cátedra de Flamencologia (Professorate of Flamenco Studies), the only non-Spaniard to have been so honored.

"Donn Pohren made an incredible contribution to Flamenco for us extranjeros [foreigners] – his books were truly Flamenco Bibles in an era where there was hardly any resource at all outside of Spain," says Flamenco guitar instructor "Flamenco Chuck" Keyser. "He was a guidepost to so many getting started in Flamenco. I rejoice in his life, and am deeply saddened by his passing."

"I met Donn in Madrid through Suzanna Hauser in the late 1990’s," says Andrea Del Conte, Artistic Director of the American Spanish Dance Theatre. "I read his books and he helped me so much in terms of understanding and digesting what flamenco was and is. I continually tell students to read what he wrote as a gateway to the vast world of flamenco. There was no one else doing what he did to educate people at a level beyond basic flamenco at that time nor now."

"What strikes me now about Don is not only the level of his expertise and his aesthetic sense, but the human "street level" view he was able to convey about the flamenco way of life," says Theo Langton. "Today, flamenco has become enshrined in universities and institutes, where flamencólogos and artists expound on their approaches to the art. But Don saw clearly that flamenco art is a reflection of a way of life. When that art becomes a product or becomes embalmed in museums, it loses the fertile dynamism that gave it birth and that sustains it.

Like ancient Athens, which produced its greatest plays at a time when the city was still a chaotic jumble of mud huts rather than a mercantile center, the flamenco that Don knew and that he conveyed so well in his books, cannot be institutionalized. So for these things Don stands out affectionately in my memory: his heart was in the right place to receive, to listen; his eyes saw clearly and conveyed what he saw, and he was generous in sharing and giving back to others."

"Like many other aficionados, I was profoundly influenced by Donn’s writings," says professor John Moore of the University of California San Diego. "As an angst-driven teenager, I read and re-read Art of Flamenco and Lives and Legends and dreamed about my eventual pilgrimage to Spain.

I met Donn several times, but never knew him well – he was always all of the things people have mentioned – extremely generous, witty, and full of passion for flamenco that lasted his lifetime. Not only did he break down and demystify flamenco, he managed to do it in a way that conveyed its mystery."

Author: World Music Central News Department

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