Well known for her high level of camp and her energetic performances, La Lupe was one of the Spanish-language world’s greatest performers. Born in Cuba to a poor working-class family, La Lupe began her life as a schoolteacher in Havana per her father’s request. However music was in her blood, & against his wishes she entered a singing competition on a local radio station in Havana where she won first place. Later she joined the singing group “Trio Los Tropicales” and made many successful club performances throughout Havana. Her performances, which included rock ‘n’ roll songs in Spanish combined with heavy antics made her a smash in the Cuban music scene and she continued to produce hit after hit.
However, after the Cuban revolution(1959), La Lupe felt that she could no longer live in a country that didn’t accept her performances, which were classified as anti-revolutionary. She left Cuba for Mexico in 1962, where she sought acceptance, but was unsuccessful. Later she moved to New York, where she met fellow Cuban musician Mongo Santamaría. Both teamed up with to make the album make “Mongo Introduces La Lupe” in 1963. That album made her a star and later she joinedranks with the legendary Tito Puente to make four successful albums.
Voted the best singer by the Latin press in 1965 & 1966, La Lupe went on to become one of the top two divas of salsa music (the other was Celia Cruz). It was during these years that she performed some of her greatest hits, especially those written by Puerto Rican composer C. Curet Alonso ( “La Gran Tirana” and “Puro Teatro”).
In the 1970’s La Lupe saw her career decline somewhat. First she was banned from television from Puerto Rico after she tore her clothes off during an awards ceremony on national television. Next, her record label, Tico Records, was purchased by Fania Records, and company executives decided to focus their energy on the less controversial Celia Cruz. Although she had several hits during that decade, she faded into obscurity. In the 1980’s, La Lupe, who retired from the industry, saw herself destitute. Her husband’s medical bills, her large donations to the African-based religion of “Santeria”, and her personal problems often left her and her family homeless. She became paralyzed following a domestic accident and was healed by an evangelical preacher. After this, she converted to evangelicalism and recorded Christian music during the late 1980s. She continued her devotion to evangelism until her death in 1992. La Lupe never saw the surge in her popularity after her death, especially after the legendary Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar chose her song, “Puro Teatro,” to be the closing song for his hit film, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”. Fania re-released her records on their Tico labels during that decade, and many of her records went platinum throughout Spain and Latin America. Considered to be a combination of Bette Midler meets Judy Garland with a dash of Eartha Kitt, La Lupe’s largest fan base is primarily the gay Latin community. Many drag performers imitate her and she is considered to be the equivalent to Judy Garland in the Spanish-language music world due her torrid love affairs, heavy drug use, poor financial management and her battle with bipolarism.
“But her legacy is not a sad song. She left us treasures that we should savor, and that places her among the ’60s Queens of Tough: Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and La Lupe.” – Milo Miles, NPR