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At 85, Cuban Legend Omara Portuondo Is Still Working — And Feeling Young

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Thursday October 20, 2016

From NPR’s All Things Considered

At 85, Cuban Legend Omara Portuondo Is Still Working — And Feeling Young
By: Betto Arcos

Cuban singer Omara Portuondo came to international attention in the 1950s, when that country was less isolated than it has been since the Revolution. Her voice reached ears around the world again in the ’90s, when she was featured as the only female singer on the hit Buena Vista Social Club album. Today, Portuondo is 85 — and she’s still performing.

Sitting in the restaurant of the classy Capri Hotel in Havana, Portuondo remembers a Cuban composer, Maria Teresa Vera, who was part of the traditional troubadour scene from the 1920s to the ’50s. Portuondo has admired Vera’s work for a long time. “I’ve been listening to her songs since I was a little girl,” she says — which is why she chose Vera’s song, “Veinte Años,” for her showcase on Buena Vista Social Club.

Danilo Lozano, a music professor at Whittier College who specializes in Cuban music, says that the 1997 album was Portuondo’s re-introduction to international and American audiences. “And that was great,” Lozano says, “because what she brought to it was, what can I say … It was magic.”

Portuondo’s career began in Havana, in places like the cabaret Salón Rojo and another club across the street from the hotel where we sit. “There at the Club 21, that’s where I first started performing with Cuarteto D’Aida,” she says. “All of these places are very important to me. They’re part of my beginning.”

To read more and listen to All Things Considered click here