La Lupe caused quite a sensation during her reign at the top of the Latin music scene in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, where she was aptly called “The Queen of Latin Soul.” She went on to influence a host of female singers who have tried to emulate her dynamic stage presence, showmanship, and unique interpretation of the music. She has been the subject of movies, Broadway shows, and never ending accolades from a new generation of aficionados who still hold her in awe. But there was only one La Lupe!
Guadalupe “Lupe” Yoli was born in the small, rural town of San Pedrito, Santiago de Cuba in 1936. She described her hometown as “so poor that no one knew it existed until I got famous.” When she was a teenager, Lupe won a radio contest that enabled her to meet Olga Guillot, a popular Cuban singer in La Habana (Havana), and sing on the radio.
By 1957, “La Lupe” was all the rage in La Habana’s competitive nightclub scene. Her first performances at the club La Red in 1958 catapulted her to fame as she urged pianist Homero Balboa to play “faster, faster.” Soon, she had a dedicated gay and avant-garde following.
In 1960, her marriage to Eulogio “Yoyo” Reyes ended, along with their musical group, Los Tropicuba. When the Cuban Revolution dawned, La Lupe left the country, like many other Cuban artists at the time. Her performances had been criticized for providing a bad example to the state.
Arriving in New York City penniless in 1962, La Lupe soon befriended and recorded with world-renowned Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. In “La Lupe Queen Of Latin Soul,” Santamaria recalls how he introduced La Lupe to “an American” jazz audience and how Tito Puente stole her from his band once she became the “hottest thing.”
In 1964, La Lupe and Tito Puente recorded the Latin classic “Que Te Pedi. (What Did I Ask of You)” For the next four years, she recorded and toured the Latin music circuit in the U.S., Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and Spain. During the late 1960s, Tito Puente started to record with Celia Cruz, and La Lupe struck out on her own, performing and appearing on English language television shows. During this time, the burgeoning Fania Records helped to popularize salsa, the latest Latin music sensation. By 1975, Fania’s new rising star was Cruz, and La Lupe’s career was on the decline. Fania Records ended her contract, and Lupe became destitute.