With various tributes, the singer from Cienfuegos province, Paulina Álvarez, was recalled on the centennial of her birth last June 29th. The legendary singer died in Havana on July 22, 1965.
It was a morning like any other: the girl was having fun with a group of friends. They were playing the traditional games of that time, from the customary ring-around-a-rosy to the quimbumbia (traditional Cuban game). At the end, they all asked Paula to sing one of the then popular songs that her voice wove so sweetly. It is hard to determine the exact moment when someone turned to the girl with cinnamon-colored skin and long braids and told her: “Paulina, sube la peña” (Paulina, Sing out!), and right away the others repeated together: “Paulina, sube la peña. Paulina…” Without knowing it, they were giving a stage name to the singer who would later be called Paulina Álvarez. ABOUT HER LIFE When referring to the great interpreters of danzonete (a combination of Cuban danzón and son music), Paulina Álvarez must be included, for she was the first woman to sing that musical genre. She made an extraordinary interpretation of Aniceto Díaz’s danzonete, Rompiendo la rutina (Breaking the Routine), and the impact was so great that other women singers also began interpreting that genre, such as Ana María García, Estela Rodríguez, Elena Li, Dominica Verges, Rosita Miranda, and Juana María Leonard. Her real name was Raimunda Paula Peña Álvarez, and she was born on June 29, 1912 in Cienfuegos province. She began studying music when she was very young, at the Municipal Conservatory (today the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory). She sang at different societies such as Unión Fraternal, Centro Maceo, Los Torcedores, and El Progreso, as well as at fairs such as Los Precios Fijos where other singers tried their luck too. In 1931, she was lead vocalist of the Elegante Orchestra directed by Edelmiro Pérez. She also worked with the musical groups of Ernesto Muñoz, Cheo Belén Puig and Hermanos Martínez. With Neno González she established her reputation as a singer. Paulina popularizad songs such as Capullito de Alelí, Lupina, Campanitas de cristal, Lágrimas negras, and Mujer divina. She also made incursions in other musical genres such as guaracha and rumba, which she recorded for RCA Víctor. By 1938, already baptized as the Empress of Danzonete, Paulina created her own group with outstanding musicians such as Everardo Ordaz. A curious bit of information: composer and pianist Dámaso Pérez Prado played with Paulina’s band. With her orchestra, the singer gave a concert in 1939 at the Auditorium, where she was not only loudly applauded for her interpretation of Rafael Hernández’s Tú no me comprendes and other songs, but it was the first such performance at that exclusive theater. That same year, she was paid tribute with a festival in which fifteen popular orchestras played, and even a plane flew over the capital and its municipalities dropping fliers, which was something unusual at that time for advertising. By the 1940s she created another orchestra with new members, under the baton of her husband and violinist Armando Ortega. In 1942, she sang in the spectacle Rumba Rita at La Polar, dedicated to the celebrated Rita Montaner, and with performances by the most popular artists of the time and the Havana comparsas (masked and costumed dancing carnival procession). Paulina was one of the biggest attractions of the spectacle Fiesta del Ritmo, directed by composer Armando Valdespí at Martí Theater, and in which Las Tres Muñecas, the Hermanos Castro orchestra, and the women’s band Ensueño performed as well. The Empress of Danzonete was among the first female singers to appear on television and to perform in the great productions at Tropicana: Yumbambé and Senseribó. She appeared in several documentaries and in the film Yambaó, shot in 1956 by Alfredo B. Cravena, starring Ninón Sevilla and Ramón Gay. Throughout her artistic career she was much acclaimed on stages in the United States, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Pampered by the public, Paulina sang with orchestras such as Arcaño y sus Maravillas and CMQ. Though she retired from the artistic world in 1950, the singer returned with new spirit in 1956. In 1959, she was chosen as lead vocalist of the Gran Orquesta Típica Nacional directed by Gilberto Valdés. Made up by sixty of the best Cuban interpreters of danzonete such as Cheo Belén Puig, Félix Reina, Israel and Orestes López, Fajardo, Richard Egües...among others, it also had the professional advice of Odilio Urfé and Rodrigo Prats. The Típica Nacional was well received during the 1st Danzón Festival held in Havana, of which the Puchito label recorded a disc that collectors keep for themselves. The singer from Cienfuegos, who conserved her voice unaffected, made unforgettable duets with Benny Moré and Barbarito Diez, and in the 1960s sang in various nightclubs in Havana such as the Alloy and Autopista. She recorded the discs Paulina Álvarez, Paulina Álvarez: Rompiendo la rutina, and Paulina Álvarez: La Emperatriz del Danzonete, all with the EGREM label. She last performed on May 18, 1965 in the television program Música y estrellas, along with Barbarito Diez and the Ochestra Aragón. Paulina died in Havana on July 22, 1965. As a tribute to the talented artist, Omara Portuondo sang famous pieces of Paulina’s repertoire in the disc Rompiendo la rutina, which won one of the special prizes of the Cubadisco 2011 Festival. HOMAGES On her centennial Paulina was remembered with the cancellation of a postage stamp at the National Museum of Music, the inauguration of a photo exhibition, and several talks. There was also a concert by the orchestra Estrellas Cubanas. Translated by Dayamí Interián Revised by Susana Hurlich