Erik Van Aro was born Gerd Eric Horst Scholz in Berlin in 1926 into a family of jugglers. He learned to juggle at a young age and also studied violin. Eventually, Erik traveled and performed with his family’s juggling act, the Aro Company.
Debuting as a juggler in 1942, he was performing 9 rings by the next year. In 1946, Erik equaled Francis Brunn’s world record of flashing 10 rings. Erik also worked with balls and clubs as a standard technical juggler.
When Erik’s father died, his mother joined the Berlin-based club passing troupe, the Novalis Troupe. Meanwhile, Erik became a prisoner of war for six months during World War II, after defecting from the German Army, only four months after he was enlisted. When he was released, he volunteered to be a percussionist at a club, despite the fact that he didn’t play drums! Nevertheless, he practiced very hard and quickly became a talented drummer. He was then faced with a decision to continue his juggling career or change to being a musician. Instead of choosing one, he decided to combine the two together.
Debuting in 1948, Erik Van Aro became the Juggling Drummer. He began his act playing a drum solo and then began to add juggling elements to the music. He juggled drumsticks while playing, threw his felt mallets at the drum heads, and juggled maracas, all in time to the rhythm that he created. He also bounced balls off of the drums, as some modern jugglers do today.
He would then began to juggle the drums themselves. He would juggle cymbals and drums, spin drums on drumsticks, and balance an array of drums. He was able to do all of this despite having very poor vision and not wearing glasses while on stage.
In 1950, he met Caterina Valente, the daughter of the musical clown Maria Valente. They married in 1952. When his wife’s amazing singing talent started to result in recording contract offers, he put his juggling career on hold to became her manager. In 1954, Caterina began having international success as a singer and guitarist. Caterina Valente went on to be hugely successful, with many hit records, movie roles, and television appearances around the world. In 1986, she was included in the Guinness Book of World Records for being Europe’s most successful female recording artist, having commercially released more than 1350 recordings. Erik and Caterina divorced in 1971, but remained close friends and business partners. Their son is European jazz and pop singer Eric Van Aro.
Erik was one of the promoters of the famous Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974, which was the world’s most-watched live television broadcast of all time. He also worked in the restaurant and night club business in Munich, Germany before retiring in the 1980s.
Erik (left) with juggling historian Max Koch (center) and famed Gentleman Juggler Felix Adanos (right) in 1959
There is only one known video of Erik juggling, from the movie Liebe, Tanz und 1000 Schlager. You can see six brief segments showing Erik juggling in the film by clicking here.
Erik Van Aro passed away in 2001 in Zurich, Switzerland.