Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960

Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960

Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960

Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960

Synopsis

Among the nearly 90,000 Cubans who settled in New York City and Miami in the 1940s and 1950s were numerous musicians and entertainers, black and white, who did more than fill dance halls with the rhythms of the rumba, mambo, and cha cha chá. In her history of music and race in midcentury America, Christina D. Abreu argues that these musicians, through their work in music festivals, nightclubs, social clubs, and television and film productions, played central roles in the development of Cuban, Afro-Cuban, Latino, and Afro-Latino identities and communities. Abreu draws from previously untapped oral histories, cultural materials, and Spanish-language media to uncover the lives and broader social and cultural significance of these vibrant performers.

Keeping in view the wider context of the domestic and international entertainment industries, Abreu underscores how the racially diverse musicians in her study were also migrants and laborers. Her focus on the Cuban presence in New York City and Miami before the Cuban Revolution of 1959 offers a much needed critique of the post-1959 bias in Cuban American studies as well as insights into important connections between Cuban migration and other twentieth-century Latino migrations.

Excerpt

Almost twenty years after production of new episodes of I Love Lucy ended in 1957, an older, gray-haired but no less upbeat and dynamic Desi Arnaz took to the stage to host the fourteenth episode of the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live. As he had done countless times throughout his early musical career in the late 1930s and 1940s and on I Love Lucy in the 1950s, the Cuban entertainer had double duties that eve ning in 1976; he served not only as the show’s host but also as the featured musical act. Backed by band members dressed in oversized bright red, orange, and yellow rumba sleeves, Arnaz performed an old favorite, the song “Cuban Pete,” alongside a woman whose red lipstick, tropical fruit headdress, and maraca-shaking dance moves must have been intended to evoke comparisons with Carmen Miranda, the Portuguese-born singer, dancer, and actress from Brazil. He ended the show with his version of “Babalú,” leading the cast and audience in an animated conga line throughout the studio. During the performance, Arnaz beat on a colorful conga drum, though less feverishly than he had on the Broadway stages of New York City, in the hotel ballrooms of Miami Beach, and on the small and big screens of Hollywood at the peak of his career. He then loosened his bowtie to signal impending disorder and wildness, a sort of cue that exotic revelry was on its way. In this act, Arnaz reproduced once more a kind of Cuban performance typical of the sort that had appealed (and continued to appeal) mostly, but not exclusively, to white North American audiences during the height of the Latin craze of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. By doing so, Arnaz and other light-skinned charismatic musicians like him, including Xavier Cugat, Marco Rizo, and José Curbelo, participated in the production of images and ste reo types that emphasized Cubanness as nonblackness, tropical escape, and sanitized exoticism.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.