It’s important to know who we are, from whom and from where we were formed… by telling the stories ourselves, we see an example of how to live, how to inspire and how to honor our ancestors, Aguanile, Mai, Mai…
MimiTVA Posting from the DMV, Tuesday February 9, 2016
La Lupe was born in Santiago de Cuba in on December 23, 1939. An electric, frenetic amazing entertainer and singer, she made a name for herself throughout the world coming from a poor town in Cuba to the stages of New York. This excerpt from her appearance on the Dick Cavett show is unforgettable.
La Lupe was born in the barrio of San Pedrito in Santiago. Her father worked at the local Bacardi distillery and a he of course had a profound influence on Lupe’s early life. In 1954 she participated on a radio program which invited fans to sing imitations of their favorite stars. Lupe skipped school to go sing a bolero of Olga Guillot’s, called Miénteme (Lie to me), and won the competition. The family moved to Havana in 1955, where she was enrolled at the University of Havanna to become a teacher. She admired Celia Cruz and like her, she was planning to be a teacher before starting to sing.
Lupe married Eulogio “Yoyo” Reyes, in 1958 and formed a musical trio Los Tropiccuba with her husband and another female singer. Los Tropiccuba broke up in 1960, along with the marriage. She began to perform her own act at a small club in La Habana, La Red (The Net), which had a clientele of distinguished foreigners. She got devoted fans at La Red, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Marlon Brando. She then released her first album, Con el Diablo en el cuerpo (With the Devil in my body) in 1960, for RCA Victor. Her first television appearance on Puerto Rican television caused an uproar because of her “wild” energy and seemingly sexualized performance, that shocked some viewers.
Lupe was exiled to México where she asked Celia Cruz to help her get work. Celia recommended her to Mongo Santamaría in New York. Once she arrived in New York City, Lupe had a standing gig at a cabaret called La Barraca. She started recording again, making more than 10 records in five years. She also was married and divorced for a second time, to salsa musician Willie García, with whom she had a daughter.
Lupe’s had an amazing vocal range, mastering a full plate of latin music styles – son montuno, bolero, boogaloo, Dominican merengue, plus Puerto Rican bomba and plena. It was her recordings which brought Tite Curet Alonso into prominence as a composer of tough-minded boleros in the salsa style. For a good part of the 1960s she was the most acclaimed Latin singer in New York City due to her partnership with Tito Puente. She did a wide variety of cover versions in either Spanish or accented English, including “Yesterday”, “Dominique” by The Singing Nun, “Twist & Shout”, “Unchained Melody”, “Fever” and “America” from West Side Story. FRED WEINBERG, who was her favorite audio engineer, also produced several of her albums. Weinberg nick named Lupe “A Hurricane” in the studio because of her intensity and enthusiasm.
Her performances became increasingly decadent. There were rumours of drug addiction and that her force of nature personality made her real life “a real earthquake” according to close friends. She ended some of her performances having be treated with an oxygen mask. Although she may have been poorly managed by her label Fania Records in particular, she managed and produced herself in mid-career, after parting ways with Tito Puente. Unfortunately her ephemeral career went downhill, the explosion of the salsa and the arrival of Celia Cruz to New York, were the determining factors of the rapid decline of her career.
A devout follower of Santería, she continued to practice her religion putting at risk the fortune and fame she had acquired through her short career. Her record label, Fania Records, ended her contract in the late 1970s, perhaps simply because of her falling record sales. She retired in 1980, and found herself destitute by the early 1980s. In 1984 she injured her spine while trying to hang a curtain in her humble home; she initially used a wheelchair, then later a cane. An electrical fire made her homeless. After being healed at an evangelical Christian Crusade, La Lupe abandoned her Santería roots and became a born-again Christian. In 1991, she gave a concert at La Sinagoga in New York, singing Christian songs.
She died of a heart attack at just 52 years of age. She was survived by her second husband William García, son René Camaño (from her first marriage) and her daughter Rainbow García (from her second marriage). She is buried in Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.