15 Things to Know About Afro-Latina Queen of Latin Soul La Lupe

Celia Cruz wasn’t the only Afro-Cubana to become a star in Cuba, and then bring her talent to the United States, and beyond

Photo: Wikimedia/Frederikperestroika

Photo: Wikimedia/Frederikperestroika

Celia Cruz wasn’t the only Afro-Cubana to become a star in Cuba, and then bring her talent to the United States, and beyond. La Lupe, who is known as The Queen of Latin Soul, is also a superstar who we should all know about. She is remembered for her emotive, energy-laden performances, and her great, powerful voice.

Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1939, Guadalupe Victoria Yoli Raymond was supposed to be a teacher (and studied for that profession). But she had other plans. After escaping from school to compete in a singing competition, which she won, her family moved to Havana, where her epic and iconic career began.

La Lupe’s career would see her release over 20 albums (over 10 in five years!), perform in different parts of the world, shock and amaze television viewers with her performances, and earn her spot as Latinx music royalty. In an effort to give her the shine she truly deserves, we are going to fill you in on 15 interesting facts about La Lupe. After you read this, you should go and listen to some of her legendary music!


La Lupe was Afro-Cubana


We mentioned this earlier, but La Lupe was born and raised in Cuba. Born in Santiago de Cuba, her family moved to Havana. This is where her career started, and where she first became a star. She was part of the group Los Tropicuba, with her then-husband and another female singer, and later performed on her own at the Havana nightclub La Red. It was in Cuba that La Lupe recorded and released her very first album, in 1960, entitled Con el diablo en el cuerpo. She was later exiled to Mexico in 1962.


She Was Known for Her High-Energy Performances

Other than her voice, what La Lupe, who was also known as “La Yiyiyi,” was best known for her emotional, frenetic live performances. She would flail her arms in the air, kick, scratch her face, and pull her hair. She told The New York Times in 1973, she “gets involved.” This is what helped set La Lupe apart, and showed that she really felt the music, and the emotion of the lyrics she was singing. And she made everyone else around her see that visibly and feel the feelings with her. She was raw, and she was real — exactly what you want a singer to be.


She Studied to Be a Teacher Before Singing Professionally


Just like fellow Cubana Celia Cruz, who La Lupe knew, Lupe was supposed to be a teacher. It was the profession her parents had wanted her to pursue and a safe and respected career choice for women. La Lupe followed her parent’s advice and received her degree in teaching from the University of Havana, in Cuba. As we all know, that career path didn’t last long, however, as her true calling singing music was waiting in the wings.


She Became a Star in Havana

Before leaving Cuba for good, La Lupe became a star on the island. She recorded her first album there and gained fans like Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Marlon Brando, who went to La Red nightclub in Havana and watched her perform. La Lupe caused such a stir with her over-the-top performances, that she managed to piss off Fidel Castro, who didn’t accept her bold ways and was threatened by the attention she was getting. He took it upon himself to take away her nightclub, her car, and her money, as punishment. However, La Lupe ended up leaving Cuba and became a big star in New York.


Luna Lauren Velez Starred in a La Lupe Biopic


La Lupe influenced many people and left a lasting mark in many who have heard her music and seen her perform. One such person is the actress Luna Lauren Velez. In what she calls her “passion project,” Velez played La Lupe in the biopic They Call Me La Lupe. On the Kickstarter page to raise money for the production of the film, Luna said: “I’ve always felt a deep connection with the person, known as ‘La Lupe.’ The first time I heard her sing and she sang one of her most famous songs, “Que Te Pedi,” it went straight into my soul. The sound of her voice was unlike anything I had ever heard. The passion, pain, the raw quality of it mesmerized me. Even her laugh was unique — a laugh I never heard before or since — and yet I felt like I always understood her. Even as a young girl I identified with her…”

La Lupe Also Worked in Puerto Rico and New York

La Lupe didn’t just make a name for herself in her native Cuba. When she went to Puerto Rico to perform on television, her frenetic, emotional performance shocked viewers. When she left Cuba, she went to Mexico, and then New York. Lupe even asked fellow singer, the iconic Celia Cruz for musical connections, leading Cruz to recommend her with Mongo Santamaria in the Big Apple.


Her Music Covered a Range of Genres

La Lupe didn’t stick to just one genre of music during her career. She sang salsa, Latin soul, guaracha, boleros, covers of popular songs in English, son montuno, boogaloo, cha cha cha, bomba, and more. She basically took songs that people know and made them her own, with her powerful and emotive voice.


La Lupe Released More Than 10 Albums in 5 Years


La Lupe knew how to get to work and knock out a bunch of albums. In fact, she released a whopping 13 albums in the span of only five years. These 13 albums dropped between 1965 and 1970 and included four, which were collaborations with the legendary musician Tito Puente.


She Also Became a Star in New York

When La Lupe arrived in New York, she got to work with big stars, including Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria. She was also signed to Tico Records, which was eventually sold to the legendary Fania Records. During her career, she was the first Latin artist to sell out Madison Square Garden, sold out Carnegie Hall, appeared on popular shows, and starred on Broadway, in Two Gentlemen of Verona, opposite the iconic Raul Julia.


She Sang in Both English and Spanish

Decades before everyone made a big deal about Latin artists singing in both Spanish and English, La Lupe was singing in two languages. She performed covers of English songs, such as “Fever,” “Don’t Play That Song for Me,” and “Crazy Heart,” in addition to her many Spanish-language hits.


She Collaborated with Big Stars

As we had briefly mentioned before La Lupe, during her career, was able to collaborate with big-name artists. She recorded four albums with the legendary Tito Puente, worked with the iconic Mongo Santamaria, and also collaborated with famous Latin music producer, Al Santiago.


La Lupe Released Over 20 Albums

La Lupe recorded over 20 albums during her career (not counting compilation albums). According to Wikipedia, these are:

Con el diablo en el cuerpo (1960, Discuba)
La Lupe is back 1961
Mongo introduces La Lupe 1963
The King swings, the incredible Lupe sings 1965 (with Tito Puente)
Tú y yo 1965 (with Tito Puente)
Homenaje a Rafael Hernández 1966 (with Tito Puente)
La Lupe y su alma venezolana 1966
A mí me llaman La Lupe 1966
The King and I 1967 (with Tito Puente)
The Queen does her own thing 1967
Two sides of La Lupe 1968
Queen of Latin soul 1968
La Lupe’s era 1968
La Lupe is the Queen 1969
Definitely la Yiyiyi 1969
That genius called the Queen 1970
La Lupe en Madrid 1971
Stop, I’m free again 1972
¿Pero cómo va ser? 1973
Un encuentro con La Lupe – with Curet Alonso 1974
One of a kind 1977
La pareja 1978 (with Tito Puente)
En algo nuevo 1980


Here Are Some of Her Hit Songs

Some of the iconic songs that La Lupe was, and is, known for can be found on Fania’s La Lupe Greatest Hits album. These are:

-“Que Te Pedi”
-“La Tirana”
-“Si Vuelves Tu”
-“Puro Teatro”
-“Carcajada Final”
-“El Carbonero”
-“Como Un Gorrion”
-“Soy Hijo Del Siboney”
-“Jugando Mama, Jugando”
-“Me Siento Guajira”
-“La Reina”
-“Dueña del Cantar”
-“Contigo Conmigo”


La Lupe is Still a Part of Pop Culture


La Lupe will never be forgotten (the singer passed in 1992 at the age of 52), her legacy will always live on. Her memory and talent has been kept alive in many ways, but one of them is through little pop culture homages. Her music has appeared on the TV show Claws, and in the films Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and The Birdcage. Her legacy was shown in the documentary LA LUPE QUEEN OF LATIN SOUL, as part of a drag impersonation on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars, and in many other instances.


She Retired in the 1980s

During the 1980s, La Lupe retired completely from music. Her popularity, which peaked in the 1960s, had declined in the 1970s and ’80s. It is also said that she walked away from the music industry for religious reasons. Before doing so, she sang Christian music in church and recorded religious music after turning to the faith.

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