Salsa in Spanish Harlem

Late Tito Puente, master timbalero

The late Tito Puente, master timbalero

The former Palladium Ballroom

     Afro-Caribbean music is a life blood in Spanish Harlem, and has permeated into Black Harlem. House parties, or maybe I should say tenement parties, were frequent on the weekends. If one listened hard enough, music could be heard blaring from windows somewhere in the neighborhood. On the main drags, such as 8th Avenue, one could easily hear the rhythmic sounds blaring from tavern jukeboxes.

     Latin sounds were just as prevalent as Motown sounds. During the mid ’60s, dances such as the Pachanga became popular, followed by the Latin Bugaloo. Several years later, the Mambo and other traditional dances were labeled Salsa. The Caribbean sounds of artist such as Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colon saturated the air.

Click on image to watch Chihuahua on a separate page.

     Over the years, I attended Latin nightclubs in Harlem, concerts at Carnegie Hall, and sessions at the Village Gate; sometimes even with my wife a few years later. While at a club around 135th and Lenox, we observed the Cuban cantora La Lupe getting whoopsy. The chick was always loose and loud according to Tito Puente, whom she had worked with. In the meantime, I had missed attending the biggest Latin dance hall, the Palladium Ballroom, located on 53rd and Broadway which closed in 1966.
     Unlike Philly, the bars in New York stayed open until 4 am, and reopened at 5am. It was just long enough to sweep up, wipe up, and clean out the cans. Moreover, the bars were also open on Sundays. Needless to say, this was another decree I liked about the city over and above that of Philly. After all, the city is tagged: The town that never sleeps.

Following is a video of a nightclub scene featuring Johnny Pacheco (10:30 mins):

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