Saturday, June 12, 2010

Remembering Celia, La Lupe and Graciela

by Deardra Shuler
Jimmy Delgado Photo Credit to Joe Conzo

Timbalero and bandleader Jimmy Delgado is the man behind the Legends of Salsa Series which he produced in collaboration with Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. The third of the series will be presented at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, April 24th at 8:00 p.m. Legends of Salsa 3: Remembering Celia, Lupe and Graciela will honor these 3 great female salsa legends. Featured artists will be Sully Diaz, Choco Orta, Cita Rodriguez and Yolanda Rivera. Also featured is the 21-piece Mambo Legends Orchestra, the former All-Stars of the Tito Puente Orchestra, under the direction of Jose Madera and Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez. Frankie Vazquez and invited guests Ronnie Puente, Pedrito Martinez and the Los Tambores Bata Trio will also take part in this historic evening.

“I thought it would be a good idea to bring together young female singers of Latin music like Sully Diaz, Yolanda Rivera, Choco Orta and Cita Rodriguez to sing the songs of these 3 great female legends,” explained the shows producer. “As you may know, when we started to put the production together, Graciela Perez-Guiterrez was the only living singer left since Celia and La Lupe had passed. When I first called Graciela to tell her about the show she was so excited. She said she hoped God would let her live to see it. Unfortunately, Graciela passed away April 7th at 94 years old. We planned to present Graciela with a proclamation and perhaps ask her to sing one of her famous songs, but now we will have to present the proclamation posthumously,” stated Delgado with sadness.

Jimmy Delgado was part of a play entitled “My Life, My Destiny” produced by Miriam Col√≥n Valle about the life of La Lupe. “This was 9 years ago. I was also working with Harry Belafonte around that time but this show was a great opportunity for me,” stated Jimmy. “I would dare to say La Lupe was more of a diva than Celia and Graciela. She was on the Merv Grifffin and Dick Cavett Shows and was able to cross over into the American market. She performed a lot on American television. Eventually, her record company teamed her up with Tito Puente and that is when her career picked up and she became a worldwide superstar. I was so happy to be part of this play because it was a real heartfelt and emotional experience. It was like bringing her to life. The play was a hit. People came to see it over and over but it only lasted 4 months. Sully Diaz portrayed La Lupe and its a shame the show didn't tour in order to share La Lupe's life with a national audience,” said Delgado's whose CD “Salsa con Dulzura” pays tribute to many musicians who do not often get the spotlight singers do.

“I had the opportunity to work with Celia Cruz when I was 19 years old,” said Delgado. “To be backing Celia at 19 years old was a blessing. She took the band to an entire new level. She was a flamboyant dresser and quite colorful. She had beautiful energy and was a great performer. Celia was very humble and sweet. Whatever pain she had off stage would be gone once she stepped on the stage. She would get onto the stage and rock the house and audiences that came to her shows left happy” recalled Jimmy.

Sonera Choco Orta who is tauted as someone who could be the natural successor of Celia Cruz, spoke about her participation in the Legends of Salsa 3 series. “I am honored that I met Graciela and was invited by her to her birthday celebration. She honored me by telling me that I have what it takes to be a salsa singer in this business. At 94 years old, Graciela had a very clear mind. I went to see her once in the hospital because she was very sick. She was sitting with her head down. I greeted her. She looked up at me and said “Who are you?” I was surprised and didn't know what to say. I said, “I am Choco Orta. Do you remember that I met you at your birthday party? She said, “What birthday party? I never had a birthday party.” I started to wonder whether she was going through Alzheimer. I apologized and started to leave and then Graciela burst into laughter and said “Come back here! Don't be silly. I am just pulling your leg.” We both laughed. She had me going there for a moment. I knew then Graciela was not only a unique person but one with a funny sense of humor,” chuckled Choco recalling Graciela's joke on her.

“I will be singing a Graciela song and several of Celia Cruz's songs including “Bemba Colora” (Red Lips) at Lehman Center. Also, I am also singing the songs of all 3 of these great ladies on my new CD "Ahora Mismo...Choco Orta," said Choco. “I also had the opportunity to work on stage with Celia in 2001. When you have the opportunity to meet great people, who are unique and whose music will always be with us, you feel lucky. I'm lucky to sing their songs and record their music. These are the ladies that opened doors for younger Latin female singers like myself to follow them. Cita and Yolanda, I believe will sing songs of Graciela and Sully some of La Lupe's songs at Lehman. This will truly be an historic night with many of the Latin greats coming to honor these wonderful and legendary ladies of Salsa music while backed by a 21-piece band,” stated the Puerto Rico born singer.

Interested parties wishing to be part of this historic night on Saturday, April 24th at 8PM, can purchase tickets from the Lehman Center Box Office, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd West in the Bronx, by calling 718-960-8833 or go online at Parking is free.

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