Gerardo Matos Rodríguez (1897 - 1948) was an Uruguayan musician and composer. He studied architecture but the lure of music was too strong. His father owned a cabaret in Montevideo. He wrote many tangos plus music for theatrical plays that opened in Buenos Aires, and he also led his own tango orchestra for a time.
The tango as a dance evolved from different dances brought to Argentina and Uruguay from European and African immigrants. Early tangos were played by immigrants in Buenos Aires which is considered the birth place of the tango. The tango was originally associated with the lower classes, and could be heard in bordellos and other seamy places, very similar to the history of American ragtime. It eventually became a main-stream entertainment and attained world-wide popularity after WW I. Read more about the history of the tango here.
Rodríguez composed La Cumparsita when he was 18 years old, in 1916. It is the most recognized tango ever written. The title translates to 'little parade' and it was originally written as an instrumental for solo piano as a Uruguayan carnival march. Different sets of words were written for the music later, with the most popular set beginning, "The little parade of endless miseries..."