A Night for Celebrating Heroines

•October 1, 2022 • 1 Comment

Last night, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University hosted its latest “Into the Stacks” public programming presentation—a themed behind-the-scenes exploration of the museum and rare book and special collections library holdings not readily accessible to the public. Hosted by Bookleggers Library director Nathaniel Sandler, last evening’s event focused on heroines—women ranging from allegorical beings, mythological goddesses, and real-life female figures. The public program also included presentations by two Wolfsonian staffers: office manager and HR liaison Sandra Solis Hazim and shop visual merchandizer Carlton Maloney. After their talks, the visitors had the opportunity to view some rare museum and library artifacts displayed in our conference room.

Nathaniel Sandler kicked off the night’s entertainment by noting that a search for “heroine” in Wikipedia automatically redirected the researcher to the more gender-neutral “hero”—even if the entry did at least include a few celebrated females such as Joan of Arc.

Sandra Hazim focused her attention on images of “Rosie the Riveter” and the actual women who left their homes to work in the war industries during the Second World War.

In addition to the most well-known image of “Rosie” showing off her muscles, Ms. Hazim included in her talk an illustration of a female riveter by Norman Rockwell. This patriotic woman was posed in a deliberate echo of Michelangelo’s depiction of the prophet Isaiah painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Ms. Hazim also noted that while many African American women worked in factories during the Second World War, there appear to have been no posters depicting persons of color engaged in such work, but only some photographs printed in Life magazine documenting their war service.

Carlton Maloney brought us back from reality and into the realm of legend with a display of some highlights from his personal collection of materials related to the comic book legend of Wonder Woman.

Obsessed with her since his early childhood, Carlton even sports a Wonder Woman tattoo on his arm!

Carlton has amassed an impressive store of vintage DC comics and figurines and he shared with the visitors treasured items from his private collection and a wealth of personal knowledge about this super-heroine and her various incarnations in everything from comic books to television shows and movies.

Carlton Maloney, Private Collection

Following the trio of presentations in our café and gift shop, the visitors were guided upstairs to our second-floor conference room. There they perused a display of museum objects and library artifacts primarily focused on Joan of Arc as well as “ordinary” heroines who served as nurses and war workers during the First and Second World Wars.

The Wolfsonian Library possesses two copies of Jeanne D’Arc written and illustrated by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (French, 1851–1913): one, a slender illustrated children’s book; the other, identical in content but published as a deluxe oversized portfolio edition with color chromolithographs mounted on large plates. The books chronicle the heroic life of the girl who claimed to have been visited by an angel and urged to take up arms to liberate France, ending with her being captured and burned at the stake by English enemies but declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Both versions of the book contain an illustrated title page that anachronistically depicts the sword-wielding girl atop a warhorse in a full suit of armor leading a charge of bayonet-wielding French soldiers and dying Prussian soldiers, all wearing late nineteenth-century uniforms. Published in 1896, the books are an example of French “Revanchism” (revenge-ism) that grew out of their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1 and bitterness at their loss of the territories of Alsace-Lorraine, whose return became a French war aim during the First World War.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Joan of Arc returned as a heroic figure with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Her silhouette graced the cover of one musical score in our collection and her legendary heroism was depicted in propaganda posters and in a recently acquired children’s book published towards the end of the war.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Written by Robert Burnand (French, 1882–1953) and illustrated by Edouard-Garcia Benito (Spanish, 1891–1981), Reims: la Cathédrale was published by Berger-Levrault in Paris in 1918 using the pochoir (stencilwork) printing process to produce vibrantly-colored illustrations. This children’s book tells the story of a French soldier wounded in battle during the Great War. Taken from the front to a hospital, he receives a visitation by an angel and has a hallucinatory dream recounting hundreds of years of history associated with Reims, the traditional location for the coronation of French monarchs and site of the Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Considered a place of sanctuary and used as a Red Cross hospital for the wounded, the gothic cathedral was nevertheless targeted and severely damaged by German bombardment and fire to the great indignation of the French. When the wounded soldier awakes from his dream in the story, he finds an earthly rather than a heavenly angel at his bedside: a heroic nurse tending to his wounds.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

The pochoir books and illustrations on the table published as WWI propaganda attracted the most attention and comment last evening, including two works illustrated by Guy Arnoux (French, 1886–1951). The first was a series of four color pochoir plates depicting heroic French women making bandages and nursing war-wounded men to health from the Middle Ages to the Great War.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

In closing, I have included a single page from a slim booklet illustrated by Arnoux expressing French gratitude for American intervention in the war. The image lauds the young, single American women who heroically volunteered to serve as Red Cross nurses on the front lines, or who traded fashionable dresses for durable coveralls to work in munitions factories and help win the war.

Turning the Beat Around: Spotlight on Merceditas Valdés

•September 28, 2022 • Leave a Comment

As the art handlers hang the last of the newly-framed posters and the designers print out the case and wall label text for Turn the Beat Around, (an exhibition focused on Afro-Cuban music and its influence and impact on American dance culture from the 1930s to the ’60s and beyond), I have been pulling together some of the artifacts and research about Cuban musicians and singers that did not find its way into the installation. Considerations of space often require a curator to make what feel like “painful” cuts, omitting much interesting material that doesn’t fit into cases or which has been deemed tangential rather than essential to the exhibition’s central themes and message. At the start of this year, while perusing through the estate sale of a collector of Cuban memorabilia, I had stumbled across and purchased a box of photographs of the Afro-Cuban singer, Mercedes Valdés and had donated them to The Wolfsonian Library at Florida International University. Since there was insufficient space to include them in the installation, I decided to gather together these forlorn artifacts and my research notes about this performer and to publish them as a blog post. Today’s post focuses on this important singer who became actively involved in the afrocubanismo cultural movement in the 1940s, and who devoted her life and career to preserving, performing, and popularizing sacred Santería songs and secular Afro-Cuban music.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Cuban singer known by the stage name of Merceditas was born in the Cayo Hueso barrio of Havana on October 14, 1928, a poorer and largely segregated part of the city set aside for persons of African heritage. Many prominent Afro-Cuban musicians were born and raised in this neighborhood, including trumpeter and composer Mario Bauzá and percussionist Luciano (“Chano”) Pozo. Merceditas was born into a musical household; her father Ángel Valdés performed with Ignacio Piñeiro’s rumba ensemble, Los Roncos. The family patriarch, however, did not want her to follow his career path, preferring her to became a nun. Despite his reservations, from an early age Merceditas showed great aptitude as a singer, winning several prizes awarded by the radio show “Corte Suprema del Arte” singing songs such as Margarita Lecuona’s “Babalú-Ayé” popularized by one of Cuba’s most famous singers, Miguelito Valdés (no relation).

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In the black congregation Hermanas Oblatas de la Providencia, Merceditas encountered the daughters of one of Cuba’s foremost ethnomusicologists and composers of Afro-Cuban music, Obdulio Morales, who encouraged her to pursue a vocation as a Santería singer. In 1938, Morales founded the ensemble, Grupo Coral Folklórico de Cuba and invited her to sing to the accompaniment of the drummers and flautist. She also became the protégé of Cuba’s oldest and longest advocate of afrocubanismo, Dr. Fernando Ortiz at the University of Havana in the 1940s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Her reputation for singing Santería tunes earned her the nickname, La Pequeña Aché de Cuba. In April 1949, Merceditas made the first recordings of Santería music for the Victor record company, singing with the Grupo Afro-Cubano. Merceditas Valdés’ reputation as a singer of sacred Afro-Cuban music grew in the 1950s. In 1951, she sang on the CMQ radio show “Rapsodia Negra” and early in the decade recorded more Santería songs with the Coro Yoruba y Tambores Batá directed by batá drummer Jesús Pérez. The ensemble also featured other drummers such as Virgilio Ramírez, Trinidad Torregrosa, and Carlos Aldama, and singers Celia Cruz, Caridad Suárez, and Eugenio de la Rosa.

In the 1950s, Merceditas starred in the Zun Zun Danbaé show at the Cabaret Sans Souci; she also became a headliner at Havana’s most famous nightclub, the Tropicana, integrating sacred and secular Afro-Cuban music and dance into her costumed and choreographed performances.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio

On February 20, 1954, at the peak of “mambo mania,” Merceditas participated in the Mambo Rumba Festival which sold out Carnegie Hall with such headliners as the Puerto Rico timbalero and mambo bandleader, Tito Puente; Cuban flautist Gilberto Valdés’ 25-piece orchestra playing rumba, conga, and mambo for the Phillips-Fort Dance Troupe; the Joe Loco Quintet; the Pupi Campo Orchestra; Puerto Rican singer Myrta Silva; the percussive rhythms of the congueros Cándido Camero and Mongo Santamaría; and Miguelito Valdés belting out his favorites as the grand finale. For her part, Merceditas sang “Ogguere” and “Bembé” with Gilberto Valdés’ orchestra.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio

In 1957, Merceditas appeared in the Cuban-Mexican co-production of Yambaó (dubbed and released for an English-speaking audience as Cry of the Bewitched), a drama set on a Cuban sugar cane plantation in 1850 and shot entirely on the island. Yambaó was the first Mexican movie to refer to Afro-Cuban religious rituals. In the tradition of the Cine de rumberas, the film featured Afro-Caribbean music by Obdulio Morales, starred the Cuban-Mexican actress and dancer Ninón Sevilla in the title role as a Santería “witch,” and included cameos by singers Olga Guillot and Merceditas Valdés.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio

In the late fifties Merceditas married Cuban drummer and timbalero Guillermo Barreto (Cuban, 1929-1991). The couple had likely met when Barreto performed with the resident orchestras of the San Souci and Tropicana in the 1940s, played his own arrangements and compositions, and organized Sunday afternoon descargas (or improvised jam sessions of Afro-Cuban jazz) at the latter nightclub in the 1950s. In collaboration with the Cuban bassist and composer, Israel López Valdés (1918–2008), better known as Cachao, Merceditas’ husband recorded and released Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature “Descargas” with Panart in 1957, and Grupo Cubano de Música Moderna with the same record label in 1959.

The same year in which Fidel Castro came to power, Merceditas recorded her debut album featuring secular Afro-Cuban music with Los Bucaneros under the joint direction of Rafael Somavilla and Adolfo Guzmán on one side, and sacred Santería music featuring Jesús Pérez and his group, Isúpo Irágüo. A color photograph of Merceditas graced the album cover.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio

Although Merceditas recorded with percussionist Mongo Santamaría and some carnival music with Alberto Zayas over the next couple years, the Castro regime soon after actively discouraged the commercialization of such music and “superstitions,” and the Santería singer ceased recording music until the 1982 when the regime changed its tune and cultural policies. In 1988 she was able to tour Spain and Canada with Sergio Vitier’s Grup Oru, and throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, Merceditas released several albums of Afro-Cuban music, several featuring her husband before he passed away in December 1991. She survived him by five more years, and is forever memorialized in recordings of her music, including this one gifted by Vicki Gold Levi which will be on exhibit in our Turn the Beat Around installation opening on October 28.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Turning the Beat Around: Spotlight on Miguelito Valdés

•September 22, 2022 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian–Florida International University museum will soon open to the public Turn the Beat Around, an exhibition showcasing Afro-Cuban dance music and its transformation as it hopped from island to U.S. mainland. In researching an exhibition, a curator typically begins by assembling a great range of museum artifacts and pinning images of them to a storyboard. Much of the early work of putting together an exhibition inevitably involves sifting through this treasure-trove of initial selections to determine just which items best illustrate the points you wish to impart, and culling those deemed nonessential given the constraints of space and audience attention span.

Display of items to be potentially included in the installation illustrating conga and Afro-Cuban jazz

Of course, by the time the installation is finally ready, the curator has already researched numerous items that have since been dropped from consideration and may even have written some draft descriptive and interpretative chats. Such was the case in preparing this installation. To keep this work from going to waste, I have decided to publish a few posts in advance of the opening to highlight the careers of some prominent Cuban and Puerto Rican bandleaders, composers, musicians, and singers who appear but briefly in the installation. Today’s post focuses on the life and career of the Cuban bandleader and singer, Miguelito Valdés.

Born in the Belén neighborhood of old Havana, on September 6, 1912, Miguelito Valdés and his six siblings were raised in Cayo Hueso, a predominantly Afro-Cuban barrio of the city which was also home to trumpeter and composer Mario Bauzá and Miguelito’s close friend, percussionist Luciano (“Chano”) Pozo. Greatly influenced by the music of his youth, Valdés proved a versatile and popular musician, percussionist, and singer and has been described by one of Cuba’s most respected music historians “as black a white guy as you would meet in Havana.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

As his Spanish father had separated from his Yucatán Mexican mother, at eleven Miguelito was already helping support his family working as an automobile mechanic and banging out dented fenders and car bodies. As a teenager, he put those pounding skills to other uses. Inspired by the Cuban boxer, Kid Chocolate, Miguelito tried out boxing. But he was also known for banging out rhythms on the conga drum.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Leonard Finger Collection, gifted by Edwin Schloss

In 1926, at the age of sixteen the aspiring boxer hit the radio waves when he asked the sportscaster interviewing him if he might belt out a tune over the air. The following year he joined El Sexteto Habanero Juvenil, becoming the band’s lead vocalist and percussionist, even as he practiced playing guitar.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Leonard Finger Collection, gifted by Edwin Schloss

During the tumultuous period of the Cuban revolution of 1933 and the first rise to power of Fulgencio Batista as commander of the Armed Forces behind a string of puppet presidents, Valdés left his homeland to sing with a Cuban band in Panama. When their contract ended and the rest of the group disbanded and returned to Cuba, the singer remained behind, working in El Moderno Cubano restaurant, where he could talk to customers and ascertain the political situation in his homeland. There he attracted the attention of bandleader Lucho Azcarranga, who made him the orchestra’s lead singer. Even as the vocalist began to make a name for himself in Panama, Valdés began courting Vera Eskilssen Tejada. The couple wed a month after his return to Havana in the fall of 1936.

Back in Cuba, Valdés began singing with Los Hermanos Castro, winning notoriety with his baritone voice and singing style that included scat-style “routines.” When the group broke up, he and six other members created the core of a new twelve-member orchestra with Valdés acting as director and lead vocalist. Securing a five-year contract from the owner of a local casino, the Orquesta Casino de la Playa jazz band was born. The orchestra appeared in a slot in a comedy show airing daily on CMQ radio. That fame was followed up with an RCA Victor record contract, recording sessions in Havana’s Montmarte nightclub, and tour bookings that took him all over Cuba, throughout the Caribbean, and across the South American continent. Although his orchestra recorded eight records every two weeks between 1937 and 1939, because the band had no label or agency to protect their interests, they did not fairly profit from any royalties.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Valdés’ breakthrough moment to stardom came in 1939, when he recorded a version of Margarita Lecuona’s “Babalú-Ayé”—a song paying homage to the orisha (or spirit manifestation of the supreme creator of the Yoruba religion of West Africa) still venerated by many Afro-Cubans. The song became immensely popular in Cuba, earning Valdés the title “Señor Babalú,” but also proved popular among New York’s Latin community; Cuban American performer Desi Arnaz began to add it to his repertoire.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Miguelito Valdés left Cuba and moved to the United States in 1940. In New York City, he first performed at Alberto Iznaga’s La Siboney where Cuban musician Machito was also playing.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Leonard Finger Collection, gifted by Edwin Schloss

Soon after he signed a five-year $150/week contract to sing with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra playing nightly at the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria for a couple of years where Valdés’ singing attracted more notice than the bandleader’s conducting. He simultaneously sang engagements in some of America’s finest supper clubs and made a weekly appearance on the Camel “Rumba Revue.” Despite negotiations and an offer of $400/week and an appearance with the orchestra in the American movie, You Were Never Lovelier (1942), the vocalist and Cugat parted ways with only Miguelito’s voice gracing the uncredited soundtrack of “Bim Bam Bum” in the film’s final cut. Later that decade Valdés released the album with the variant title “Bim Bam Boom.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Quitting Cugat’s orchestra did not hurt Valdés career; within a week he landed a new singing gig at New York City’s La Conga club with a contract offering nearly twice his former rate of pay.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Represented by the William Morris Agency, Valdés’ likeness appeared on the April 1942 cover of Billboard magazine and he was subsequently booked at important Latin music venues across the country. Between 1942 and 1944, Valdés moved to Mexico and made cameos in a dozen movies before establishing residence in Los Angeles, California. In 1945, he made a reprise of his famous rendition of “Babalú Ayé” in the Hollywood film, Pan-Americana.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

In 1947, Valdés collaborated with Cuban music director Mario Bauzá and his brother-in-law Machito, who were already well-established in the New York music scene, and released an album in which Valdés sang a variety of boleros, guarachas, rumbas, and sones to the accompaniment of Machito and His Afro-Cubans.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

Valdés also used his influence to boost the careers of other Cuban musicians and singers, including singer Olga Guillot and Miguelito’s friend and percussionist extraordinaire, Chano Pozo. Both Valdés and Bauzá encouraged Pozo to come to New York City. He did so in January 1947, collaborating with Dizzy Gillespie in the creation of Afro-Cuban jazz shortly before Pozo was killed in a shooting in Harlem on December 2, 1948.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

In 1949, Valdés provided a song, “Rumba Rumbero,” for the film, Holiday in Havana, starring his compatriot and competitor for the title of “Mr. Babalu,” Desi Arnaz. The film’s soundtrack credits list Albert Grasso (misspelled as “Gasso”!) and Miguelito “Valdez” as the song’s co-composers, but Arnaz’s rendition of the song is decidedly more tame than the one released by Valdés and his orchestra in 1950.

Valdés continued to perform in Los Angeles, lead his own big band, and to release numerous well-received albums. A couple of his album covers dating from the 1960s even included cover model Mary Tyler Moore and his name again misspelled to end with a z!

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Later in the decade Rock and Roll began to gain in popularity and drown out Latin big band music. After he dissolved his band and retired, his singing career was revived when Mario Bauzá and Machito invited him to participate in a reunion album released by Tico records. Touring once again, Valdés suffered a heart attack and died on stage during a performance at the Hotel Tequendama, in Bogotá, Columbia in November 1978. We are thrilled to be able to include some materials concerning Valdés’ life and career in our exhibition, Turn the Beat Around, which opens to the public on October 28, 2022.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Behind the Scenes of an Installation Examining the Cuban and American Dance Scene

•August 13, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes courtesy of Victoria Calveira, a Florida International University student who has been interning at The Wolfsonian Library this summer semester and helping me gather and organize artifacts to be included in an installation. The exhibition draws primarily on materials gifted to the museum library by Vicki Gold Levi over the course of two decades and will focus on the impact of Afro-Cuban music on American dance culture from the rumba in the 1920s and ’30s, conga and Afro-Cuban jazz in the ’40s, mambo and cha- cha- chá in the ’50s, and salsa in the ’60s and ’70s. And, of course, the beat goes on. We have been pulling, arranging, and—most challenging—culling items from among the sheet music covers, album cover art, movies posters, lobby cards, publicity photographs, dance instruction books, and other materials that best illustrate how Cuban music was promoted and repackaged as it hopped from island to U.S. mainland. Victoria’s assistance in recording information in spread sheets and populating images on storyboards proved invaluable in putting this installation together in such a relatively short time frame. Here is her report:

What is it about exhibitions that make them so enticing? How do curators weave a tight and efficient web of artworks together into a polished and cohesive narrative? Although much effort goes into creating storyboards, selecting items, and writing descriptive and interpretative text, in the end it is all about imparting the audience with a central message. I have spent much of my summer semester internship working with Chief Librarian Francis Luca as he put together Turn the Beat Around, an installation examining the Afro-Cuban origins of popular dance music and its evolution. The key component of the exhibition is to examine how the artwork associated with the music expresses this theme, acting like a litmus test for ever changing culture. This post focuses as much on items that—due to limited space and other considerations—did not make the cut as much as on items that will be included in the exhibition.

Some items, such as this illustration of a Cuban dancer and drummers, captures the origins of rumba as an Afro-Cuban performance driven by percussion.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Aside from those fortunate enough to travel to the island as tourists in the 1930s and 1940s, most Americans encountered Cuban-influenced music like the rumba or the conga in the context of Latin-themed cabarets, dance clubs, and Hollywood musicals.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Before this project, the most intimate look I had into an exhibition involved providing tours to an installation in its last stage of completion during Art Week. Leading tours required me to have complete command of the artwork and mastery of the central themes. Reading labels and listening to curator talks are a completely different experience. I am also adept at deconstructing works as I have been trained to do so in my art history classes. But I was not aware of how much work goes into making exhibitions a reality, something that I am cognizant of now thanks to this internship. 

Over the course of my work at The Wolfsonian, I found myself questioning my assumption that curators had full reign and say over what they did, as if it were a lone pursuit. If I were to pinpoint my most surprising experience, it would be when Dr. Luca allowed me to stay for a meeting with the exhibition designer and exhibition manager. From the perspective of the proverbial fly on the wall, I got to see how aspects of the exhibition are coordinated to make it a reality. It was a back and forth between what was best for the exhibition conceptually and logistically. I remember lots of “No this can’t go here,” followed by “we only have X amount of X,” and “the space is only this big.” I hadn’t considered before how different departments interacted to make an exhibition a reality. 

I discovered that organization is key to the curatorial process, which is manifested in computer-based Excel sheet and old-fashioned foam core storyboards. Images of each item proposed for inclusion are tacked onto the storyboards under each of the defined sections of the show, with some being added, substituted, or dropped over the course of the development of the installation. The storyboards remain an essential tool for curators at The Wolfsonian–FIU. This necessitated lots of tasks involving printing, cutting, and pinning up images of artifacts. Walking through an exhibition, I doubt that the average museum visitor imagines the many times the printer didn’t work, the frantic trips made to find more pins, and how often we had to reconcile what remained on the boards with what we had initially gathered into exhibit theme boxes. The storyboard is very much a constantly evolving organism as items are added or dropped from consideration. The final installation can be, and most often is, a very different product than its earlier conception and various incarnation on the storyboards. 

I found the Excel sheet check lists to be the most technical aspect of the project. The sheet was divided into several categories based on the evolving themes and sections of the installation. I spent the most time adding to individual object descriptions, providing title, date, and publication information. At one point in time, both this oversized postcard of the Tropicana nightclub in Havana(where many Cuban performers got their big break)and this sheet music cover were considered for inclusion in the exhibition, only to be dropped for lack of space.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Like the storyboard, the Excel sheet check list is a living document and would shed and add items. At one point it held every possible item that might be included, which was impressive in its sheer scope. Eventually, items were dropped from the list as the curator decided which of the many artifacts best made the argument for each section of the show and which items were of only peripheral importance when weighed against considerations of space limitations. The physical items had to be pulled, measured, and placed in boxes for each section of the installation. Some of them were easy to find, but there were always a few elusive artifacts that had to be hunted down. The search for the following photograph and postcard was intensive, requiring the joint effort of another intern. I uncovered these two; it was like finding gold in a sifting pan.   

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca 

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Andrea S. Silverthorne and Joanne Silverthorne 

My first exposure to an artifact was through the Excel sheet, but I understood each piece better as I saw it move to the storyboard. At any time, Dr. Luca would explain to me how certain items connected to the overall themes of the installation and helped tell a part of the story with their imagery. The last two items features in this post include a picture record that was not only one of Dr. Luca’s favorite pieces, but also one of mine. The dance instruction sound recording includes an image of an American couple on the dance floor, with the male partner obviously distracted by an Afro-Cuban woman shaking her maracas. The image is so evocative and full of undertones that show the seductive power of Afro-Cuban music to an American audience. Another item, an Arthur Murray pamphlet, is another of my favorites as it so clearly shows just how much Cuban music and culture like the rumba was transformed to conform to the typically American ballroom dance scene.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

 

Vacation and Representation

•August 3, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes courtesy of Maxwell Suñez, a Florida International University student majoring in Art History who has been interning with us here in The Wolfsonian Library this semester. Maxwell had the opportunity to process and accession a number of items recently donated to the collection by Elise Holloway. Here is his report:

For the summer semester of 2022, I had the honor of returning to The Wolfsonian–FIU as a library intern. I decided to focus on colonial and imperial materials, although I struggled with such as the vast majority were in languages I could not understand. At least, that was the case until we received a donation of various cruise line materials from Elise Holloway. Elise, along with her late brother, Bill, have donated a large amount of Grace Line ephemera in the past. After looking through the collection, I found myself interested in the advertisements published by the American President Lines to promote their trips to the “Orient.”

As advertisements mostly from the 1940s for travel to Asia, it is unsurprising that the indigenous people are depicted in a less than flattering way. A couple of the selections feature Chinese and Japanese people with exaggerated yellow skin tones.

The advertisements also consistently treat indigenous people and their routine activities as a spectacle to be enjoyed by Western tourists. One of the illustrations that stuck out to me the most depicts a well-dressed white couple hovering over a group of Filipino women seated on the ground, working. A clear hierarchy is established in this ad, where the white couple are pictured as quite literally above the Filipino people.

Finally, there is this emphasis on the old and the traditional. No attention is paid to any innovations or anything that could be considered modern even though these ads are from the 1940s, with the SS President Hoover ad even dating from 1960. In the latter, the modern American ship looms behind greenery and a Japanese temple seemingly lost in the past. It does not show the concrete buildings or paved roads with contemporary cars one might expect to see in Yokohama at this time. The remnants of antiquity are undeniably a part of any modern culture, but they are not the entirety of it. The ads imply that Asian people are technologically well-behind their “modern” American counterparts.

These ads were designed to promote tourism and travel; unfortunately, they also perpetuated stereotypes and a willful ignorance of anything more than the most “exoticized” views of “the other.” While one might expect advertisements of this era to emphasize the differences between the East and West, many of these ads also highlight the supposed cultural, technological, and racial superiority of the white visitors over non-white peoples.

Judging Pulps by Their Covers

•July 28, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Today’s post comes courtesy of Michael Cuervo, an undergraduate student in his final semester at Florida International University. An English major in the creative writing track, Mr. Cuervo has been interning with us in The Wolfsonian Library and has helped us catalogue a number of pulp paperbacks over the course of the semester. Here is his report:

Pulp paperbacks and magazines were immensely popular in the United States, most especially between the 1930s and 1950s when censorship of Hollywood films forced audiences to find other outlets for sex and violence. These literary works acquired the name “pulp” because they were printed on the cheap pulpwood paper that soon brittle with age. But many of these ephemeral literary works remain popular well beyond the lifespan of the pulp paper on which they were printed. This is often because of the glossy cover art and campy back cover blurbs.

The focus on the front and back covers allows the potential reader to make judgements about the works that often are not too far off from the inside content. The illustrations, often derived from original paintings by talent artists, offer a sort of “what you see is what you get” sentiment. One can infer much about the plot of these pieces of pulp literature just from glancing at the front covers, which often picture a sensual woman in some sort of distress.

Poisons Unknown by Frank Kane provides a perfect example of how these paperbacks appealed to potential readers of the era. The front cover displays an alluring “dame” or “damsel” with an hourglass figure pictured in the state of distress.

The back cover blurb provides as much information as you need to take away from the novel, and of course includes titillating phrases that would appeal to the demographic of the era. The female protagonist is described as one of “the most beautiful society women in town.” To further entice the reader, the back cover text continues with the teaser: “The woman’s body undulated. Her motions became frantic. Wildly, she tore off her clothes…”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Pulp paperback covers often use the trope of helpless women using their sexuality to procure the protection of a hyper-masculine hero. The back cover descriptions generally treat the women as mere objects of desire for the male gaze, with the covers perfectly complementing these blurbs.

At first glance, the front cover illustration of Howard Schoenfeld’s Let Them Eat Bullets appears to project the typical detective story of the era. The male protagonist is depicted as a strong man, more than likely a womanizer, who has a knack for killing his enemies and protecting “his” women. Flipping the book to get a glimpse of the back, these suspicions are confirmed.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Some pulp covers appear to have little to do with the plot of the novel, serving instead as eye-catching imagery designed to draw in readers. The illustrations clearly indicate that the publishers aimed at pulling in a prominently male demographic, even in novels that focused on romantic content. The following book is meant to focus on a nine-year old girl who knows the truth of a murder, yet the front cover seems to depict a more mature (and alluring) young woman.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Even pieces that depict strong, burly men on the cover—often with their chest exposed—were intended to appeal to a male demographic, serving as a validation of the reader’s masculinity. There is no question that these covers also served as entertainment for women as well, that is, assuming a primarily cisgender heterosexual narrative. Pulp magazine covers provide plenty of examples of burly men, with most of the literature focusing on tales of hard-boiled detectives or attractive vigilantes on the run.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Perusing the front and back covers of pulp fiction literature provides a vicarious—if superficial—stop-image snapshot of the novels’ plots. The cover captions and blurbs are thoroughly entertaining to read while the cover artwork—if sometimes brash and tasteless—establish the zeitgeist for their mid-twentieth-century heyday.

Gender, Race & Ethnicity in Turkish Caricature

•July 1, 2022 • Leave a Comment

This past month, The Wolfsonian–FIU museum and rare book and special collections library hosted University of Southern California Professor Onursal Erol as a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Erol is working on a project involving gender and urbanity in Turkish modernity. During his residency in Miami, Professor Erol consulted a nearly complete run of Arkitekt (later retitled Mimar) which had been published monthly in Istanbul, Turkey between 1935 and 1954, The librarians also pulled from our stack a scattering of Turkish weeklies dating from the 1930s that we though might be of interest to his studies.

These included 22 unbound issues of Akbaba—(published weekly between 1922-1977)—and nearly 60 unbound issues of Karikatür (published from 1936 through 1948). These satirical magazines provided a wealth of visual and textual evidence for the Turkish discourse on gender, race, and ethnicity in the early Republican period. This post will focus on the cover illustrations and caricatures of these weeklies.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

After the Ottoman Empire crumbled following defeat in the First World War, a Turkish nationalist and field marshal, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey and served as the new state’s president from 1923 until his death in 1938. During that period, President Atatürk embarked on a campaign of political, economic, and cultural reforms aimed at forging Turkey into a modern, industrial, and secular state.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Even as the black-shirted Fascists and brown-shirted Nazis seized power in Italy and Germany, the Turkish weeklies contrasted the new Turkish Republic from its western neighbors. In one representative article, the editors noted that “Fascists don’t want educated people” but were “in favor of an ignorant population,” concluding that that was “precisely why Germans burn books in public squares….” In contrast, President Atatürk was lauded for opening thousands of schools across the nation and for recognizing and expanding women’s civil and political rights. Ironically, Turkey’s dealings with its remaining ethnic minorities were not unlike those pursued by the Fascists since Atatürk simultaneously pursued a policy of Turkification, targeting Jews and Arabs with the choice of forced cultural and linguistic assimilation or expulsion and exile. The cover illustrations of both Akbaba and Karikatür reflect Ataturk’s directives for liberalizing gender norms and liberating Turkish women, while simultaneously denigrating and stereotyping ethnic minorities.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Considering that religious and cultural traditions in Turkey required women to wear burqas and other coverings to preserve their modesty, Atatürk’s secularization campaign encouraged women to reject such directives and the covers of Karikatür abound with images of Turkish women dressed in contemporary modern clothes and fashions that would not have looked at all out of place on the cover of a Parisian glamour magazine. Many of these visual representations of Turkish women depict the fairer sex as unabashedly sensual and unafraid of exposing their shapely legs and curves while sporting skirts, swimsuits, and tight-fitting nightgowns.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But even as some of these almost “cheesecake” images sexually objectify women, other show their empowerment, as when they are positioned in the driver’s seat of an automobile or sitting on top of the world.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Issues of race creep into some of these covers, however. On one cover, for example, a bathing beauty is warned against spending too much time in the sun lest her tanned skin make of her an Ethiopian; another image and caption jokes that Arabs might assume their race increasing by the Turkish women’s propensity for tanning at the beach!

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Many cover illustrations of Akbaba were designed to rebuke the Italian fascists for invading Ethiopia and oppressing African peoples. But even as the satirical weeklies sided squarely with the indigenous peoples against the fascist invaders, the cover imagery often stereotyped the former as primitive and pitiable.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Similarly, while the Turks contrasted their Republic from the Nazi regime, their weeklies adopted almost identical antisemitic stereotypes and tropes in caricaturing and condemning the Jewish minorities living in Turkey.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

On his last day in residence, the librarians handed a new acquisition yet unprocessed and catalogued to Dr. Erol. The item was a bound edition of cartoons printed at the end of the Second World War and clipped from the most important newspaper of the era, The Republic.

Even as the Turks congratulated themselves on having avoided the worst of the war that pitted Fascists against Communists in the East, some of the imagery continues to play to stereotypes of Jews and other ethnic groups.

The Feminine Touch: The Artwork of Two French Africanists

•May 12, 2022 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Today’s post focuses on the work of a couple of French women artists and Africanists, Suzanne (née Balliste) Truitard and Mary Morin, who were actively producing and promoting Western female artistic production in the colonies in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

I was able to sketch out the contours of Suzanne’s biography. Raised in the French territory of Algiers where her father served as a public works engineer, she moved to Madagascar, where she met and married her husband, Léon Truitard, a colonial administrator. The couple lived together in France between 1915 and 1925, during which time Suzanne studied drawing and wood-engraving. When her husband was appointed to a post in Cameroon, Suzanne accompanied him there. After her return to Paris in 1927, Suzanne composed several posters for various colonial projects and when the grand colonial exposition was organized in that city in 1931, she provided the original wood engravings used to illustrate the pamphlet representing the French mandate African territories of Cameroun-Togo.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

It was while residing in Paris in the late 1920s or early 1930s that Suzanne encountered Mary Morin, another French female artist recently returned from Africa. I was able to glean only the barest outlines of a biography of this talented artist whose original watercolors have been recently acquired by and installed in the Palais de la Porte, and whose pochoir prints have been added to our own collection. Although I have not yet been able to determine when and under what circumstances, Mary Morin spent some time in the mid-1920s in Senegal and Sudan. By 1927, Morin had returned to France where thirty of her watercolor images of these regions were reproduced as color pochoir (stencil) prints paired with African proverbs and published in a portfolio edition titled Au pays de Samba Diouf [In the Land of Sambo Diouf]. The stencil work renderings of Morin’s watercolors were produced by Propin and published in a limited numbered edition of 250 on October 3, 1927, by Éditions Radot under the artistic and literary direction of José Almira. Many of Morin’s illustrations focus on and represent the diverse architecture of the region in a manner typical of the Western outsider and observer.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

But many more of Morin’s illustrations do far more than provide a glimpse of “exotic” buildings and peoples; her colorful images not only capture the colorful costumes but also focus on the daily chores, lives, and rituals of African men and women with a cultural sensitivity that eschews colonial stereotypes.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Mary Morin either remained in Paris or returned to the metropolitan capital in the early 1930s, as in 1931 she recorded her impressions of the pavilions of the Exposition Coloniale Internationale taking place in that city with twenty-four watercolor illustrations. These watercolors were also rendered as pochoir prints and included in the portfolio, Quelques images de la grande exposition colonial [Some images of the Great Colonial Exhibition].

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

In 1935, the two Africanists and feminists had teamed up to co-found the Salon des Femmes Artistes Coloniales with the aim of bringing together works by painters, sculptors, and authors associated with France’s territories and colonial possessions in Africa. Eschewing the grandeur of the Grand Palais, they settled on a small gallery below the Mandated Territories and Autonomous Colonies Agency, in a modern building on the rue Tronchët. The May opening was inaugurated with a series of artist lectures and exhibitions highlighting the work of Margarite Barrière-Prévost, Suzanne Drouet-Réveillaud, Louise Pascali, and other talented women Orientalists and Africanists.  

Not long after cofounding the salon, Suzanne Truitard accompanied her husband to the French island territory of Réunion in the Indian Ocean when he was appointed governor there in 1936, presumably leaving Mary Morin in charge of the salon. I have been unable to determine the details of Morin’s career after this date, though I was able to track Suzanne as she moved with her husband from La Réunion to Dahomey in 1940, and from there to Algiers in 1943. Suzanne returned to France in 1950 where she resumed her work as a painter and engraver.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Graphic Design Visitors: A Bird’s-Eye View

•March 29, 2022 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Earlier this month, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University hosted a visit by Professor Albena Petrus Stoyanova and nearly thirty of the students enrolled in her FIU Global Strategic Communication- Creative Track master class and M.AD School of Ideas joint program.

Upon arriving at the museum, our Education Manager Oscar Rieveling introduced the group to Rotterdam-based designer Bas van Beek’s Shameless exhibition on our ground floor galleries and lobby. The guest-curated installation features career highlights as well as new works inspired by—or “shamelessly” riffing off—Wolfsonian artifacts. The exhibition also included some 3D-printed objects produced in collaboration by the artist’s students from the Royal Academy in The Hague and Florida International University.

After their Shameless experience, the group was escorted up the elevators to the sixth floor for a guided tour of Aerial Vision. This exhibition curated by Lea Nickless explores how the new technologies of airplanes and the emergence of skyscrapers in the early twentieth-century inspired artists, designers, and urban planners to see the world from new heights and new perspectives.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Following their guided tour of the galleries, Professor Stoyanova and her students came down to the third floor for a presentation of highlights from the library’s collection of graphic design materials selected by the chief librarian and placed in cases in the library foyer.

The Wolfsonian Library holdings include historical bindings and illustrated books produced between 1850 and the 1950s providing examples of art and design of the Victorian era;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…poster designs, ephemera, and periodicals created by Bill Bradley, an artist who helped popularize Art Nouveau in the United States;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…Wiener Werkstätte catalogs, sample books, and Jewish New Year postcards promoting textile and wallpaper designs of the Vienna workshop;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…pictographic and Constructivist-style propaganda postcards from the Soviet Union;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…Art Deco designs by Mac Harshberger and others;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

…examples of aeropittura when Italian Futurism took flight, Fortunato Depero’s machine-inspired “bolted book,” and Futurist poetry accompanied by illustrations silkscreened onto tin pages;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…Surrealist book covers designed by Karel Teige from the Czech Republic;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…exhibition catalogs and programs produced under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project and the Works Progress Administration in the United States;

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…and Bauhaus materials, including works pulled from the Herbert Bayer Archive.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

There were also rare periodicals on display documenting artistic and cultural trends in graphic design from across the globe. Many of these magazines featured cover artwork by guest designers.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Entering the main reading room of the library, the group had the opportunity to preview movie posters, lobby cards, vintage album covers, and other ephemeral items and to see how such materials are laid out in storyboards.

The works are being considered for inclusion in an installation focused on Afro-Cuban dance music and its commercialization and transformation for American audiences.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Towards the end of the visit, The Wolfsonian’s design team, Art Director Marlene Tosca Hunt and Senior Graphic Designer Brittany Ballinger spoke with the students about their experiences working in a museum environment. Referencing a 2016 exhibition on the U.S.-Cuba cultural exchange, they described how the designs they created for rack cards, catalogs, brochures, and other printed materials were inspired and informed by the artwork, colors, fonts, and feel of the historical materials featured in that installation.

The students left with all sorts of samples and takeaways.  

A Musical History of U.S.-Cuba Relations, 1898-1959

•February 18, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this month, The Wolfsonian Library hosted a visit by Florida International University students enrolled in the history class, America and Movies: Cuba and the United States, 1868-2022.

The course uses popular and documentary film, material culture, music, and museum artifacts as prisms through which to view “the ties of singular intimacy” and sources of alienation that have characterized relations between the United States and its island neighbor. The sixteen students that braved Miami’s traffic and Miami Beach’s parking nightmares were rewarded with the opportunity first to peruse the Jean S. and Frederick A. Sharf Collections of historical bindings and the Joseph K. Albertson Collection—one of the largest collections of Spanish-American War sheet music covers. After that they reviewed a wide range of promotional materials from the Vicki Gold Levi Collection, including publicity photos, movie posters and lobby cards, record jackets, and other ephemeral items.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Jeans S. and Frederic A. Sharf

The group next reviewed some sheet music covers published as the United States sent volunteer cavalry and troops to assist the Cuban rebels fighting for independence from Spain in 1898, though none of the students had the temerity to try to sing aloud any of the sentimental tunes. Most of the titles and cover illustrations urged listeners to “Remember the Maine,” the battleship that exploded while at anchor in Havana Harbor—an event which served as the pretext for declaring war on Spain. Others expressed America’s need to intervene and help liberate Cuba from Spanish colonial rule.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Joseph K. Albertson Collection, gifts of the Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Fla.

Next, the class focused on materials documenting the young Republic’s attempt to diversify the economy after soaring wartime sugar prices and the “dance of the millions” ended in a dramatic collapse in the wake of the First World War. Emboldened by the passage of U.S. Prohibition, the Cuban government gambled on enticing wealthy American tipplers and gamblers to Havana, passing a tourist law and embarking on road and modern infrastructure improvements. The 1920s and 1930s witnessed a rising crescendo of American visitors in Cuba, drawn to the island as much by the “scandalous” and sensual rumba dancing, as by rum and roulette.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Earlier in the twentieth century, the young Cuban Republic had disparaged the sacred ceremonies of the Afro-Cuban religions Santería, Palo Monte, and Abakuá as “barbaric” and had discouraged the public playing of drums and maracas associated with these rituals. Comparsa de congas celebrations by poor urban black and mixed-race people during Carnival had been prohibited in Santiago de Cuba and Havana well into the early 1920s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

But beginning in the late 1920s and 1930s, Cuban artists and intellectuals searching for a unique national identity reclaimed Afro-Cuban music and cultural traditions in embracing afrocubanismo. A life-long champions of afrocubanismo, the ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz founded the Estudios Afrocubanos society and academic journal at the University of Havana in 1937. Along with Obdulio Morales, Ortiz mentored and encouraged Afro-Cuban singers such as Merceditas Valdés. In April 1949, Merceditas became one of the first female akpwón or Santería singers to be recorded, earning her the nickname La Pequeña Aché de Cuba.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Merceditas would go on to record and sing more Santería tunes at the CMQ radio station accompanied by many well-known percussionists, tour with Ernesto Lecuona’s orchestra, perform at the San Souci cabaret and the Tropicana nightclub. She would also appear in a 1957 Cuban-Mexican co-produced film with an Afro-Cuban theme, Yambaó (or, Cry of the Bewitched) before the triumphant Castro-led revolutionaries came to power and actively discouraged Santería musical expression.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

But in the 1930s, nationalists, intellectuals, and proponents of tourism recognized Afro-Cuban musical traditions as something uniquely Cuban and attractive to foreign visitors. Consequently, the Cuban National Tourist Commission began actively promoting comparsas and Afro-Cuban musical festivals, and mulatta rumba dancers frequently appeared on the covers of the popular magazine Carteles.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

An urban, Afro-Cuban dance to percussion, rumba had been denigrated as base and risqué by “respectable” middle-class Cubans before it was appropriated and transformed into a “respectable” orchestral cabaret performance in the capital city.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

In his 1928 travel guide, When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba, Basil Woon described the rumba as “that most suggestive of dances, reminiscent of the jungle” in which “instead of the woman trying to charm the man it’s the other way about, and the man by his gestures, and his grace endeavors to seduce the woman.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

American tourists in Cuba actively sought out the exotic dance, which was appropriated, commercialized, and transformed into a fox trot set to Latin rhythms. Americans who could not afford a vacation to Cuba to see the “real thing,” could vicariously experience the thrill of the rumba as it was performed at world’s fairs, in Hollywood films, in nightclubs and dance halls.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

The Cuban dance pair René and Estela (René Rivero Guillén and Ramona Ajón) helped popularize the rumba in the United States with performances in shows at the Century of Progress International Exhibition (Chicago 1933/4) and in the popular detective film, Another Thin Man (1939). The dance partners included the fancy footwork, body part shimmies, and male pursuit of the female partner of the traditional Cuban rumba, though they performed in a slower song key and step.

In the aptly titled Hollywood film, Rumba (1935), actors George Raft, Carole Lombard, and Margot introduced the vicarious traveler to the “torrid tempo of this tropic dance,” which morphed in the film into a stylish, if still sensual, classy ballroom dance set to Latin rhythms.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

As American audiences sought to emulate the celebrities and movie stars creating the craze for the “forbidden” dance, they flocked to dance halls and dance studios to learn a version of the rumba modified to meet American preferences for slower and graceful artistic movements based on a waltz-like “box step.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

But it was not just American tourists and celebrities traveling to Havana who fanned the flames of the Cuban dance music craze. Cuban musicians and performers were recruited and featured at many popular U.S. music venues. Jazz flautist and musical director, Alberto Socarrás secured the all-girl band Anacaona a contract to perform at the exclusive Havana Madrid nightclub on Broadway; record contracts with RCA-Victor, and NBC radio station concerts followed.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

If listening to Cuban music inspired Americans to strut their stuff on the dance floor, those wishing to learn could either take classes at Arthur Murray Dance Studios, or purchase inexpensive sheet music covers and home study dance courses complete with dance step instructions and records.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor initiatives bore fruit in the pre- and post-World War Two period, with Hollywood musicals such as Week-End in Havana (1941) and Pan-Americana (1945) doing their part to cultivate cultural unity and friendship with Latin America.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Cuban percussionist, singer, and band leader Miguelito Valdés appeared in Pan-Americana and first popularized the Afro-Cuban homage to the Santeria deity Babalú Ayé, with lyrics contributed by Margarita Lecuona.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

After the overthrow and exile of Cuban President Gerardo Machado during the 1933 revolution, the ranches and mansions of the wealthy and politically connected Arnaz family in Santiago de Cuba were confiscated, and the family fled to Miami. After finishing high school in Miami Beach, young Desi Arnaz played the conga drum and sang with a band before attracting the ear of bandleader Xavier Cugat and becoming a star attraction in his own light.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Desi first made a splash in New York City’s nightclub scene introducing conga line dancing.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

He later starred in a few Hollywood musicals, including Holiday in Havana (1949), before assuming the role of fictional Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo in America’s most popular 1950s television series, I Love Lucy, and making Babalú Ayé his signature song.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Other Cuban musicians were also making noise in the American music scene. The Cuban percussionist and composer, Chano Pozo traveled to the United States in 1948 and despite the language barrier, collaborated with legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to create Afro-Cuban jazz.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, who moved from Havana to study classical music at Juilliard, played with and arranged music for such jazz greats as Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, and Machito. O’Farrill collaborated with Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie before forming his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in the 1950s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

American bandleader Stan Kenton, who had first collaborated with the Cuban musician, Machito on a 1947 recording of “The Peanut Vendor,” continued to be influenced by Cuban music and achieved a hit with his Cuban Fire! album in 1956.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

Meanwhile, after jazz pianist and bandleader Anselmo Sacasas mixed swing and rumba music to create the mambo in 1944, Cuban musicians Machito, Mario Bauzá, and René Hernández exported the new dance music to New York City, where it was embraced at popular venues such as the Palladium.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Adapting the danzón-mambo, Cuban big bandleader Pérez Prado won international fame and the moniker “King of the Mambo” with his mambo and cha- cha- cha compositions in the 1950s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

Prado even played himself in the American musical, Cha-Cha-Cha Boom! in which an American talent scout travels to “remote” Cuba to “discover” and sign a record deal with and make stars of local performers.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

The movie version of Guys and Dolls (1955) featured a scene in which Marlon Brando’s character brings a teetotaler and inhibited missionary girl to Havana where the tropical atmosphere, music, and drink transform her into a passionate lover.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Known to be a percussion enthusiast who frequented the Palladium’s Wednesday night mambo contests, Brando briefly visited Havana and tried to purchase drums.

Fueled by the popularity of Cuban music, American composers and singers reinterpreted and scored major hits, including Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo” and Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gifts

The Castro-led revolution of 1959 and the subsequent political severing of relations between Cuba and the United States abruptly ended three decades of profound musical collaboration and exchange that began with rumba and ended with the cha- cha- cha.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised gift

It would not be until the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Special Period in Cuba that music would once more spark and rekindle an interest in Cuban music in the United States as the Buena Vista Social Club achieved international fame. It remains to be seen whether their music, harkening back to son Cubano, bolero, guajira, and danzón traditions, will provoke more than a nostalgic longing for a past when the U.S. and Cuba shared and exchanged so much music and culture.