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Omara Portuondo

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La Habana, Cuba (1952 – present)

Omara Portuondo (born in Havana, Cuba on 29 October 1930) is a Cuban singer whose career has spanned over half a century.

Portuondo was born in October 1930 in Havana, one of three sisters; her mother came from a wealthy Spanish family, and had created a scandal by running off with and marrying a black professional baseball player. Omara started her career in 1945 as a dancer at Havana’s Tropicana Club (following her older sister, Haydee). The two sisters used to sing for family and friends, however, and after a brief time in a band called Loquibambla Swing, in 1952 they got together with two friends (Elena Bourke and Moraima Secada) and formed the singing group Cuarteto las d’Aida, backed by pianist Aida Diestro. The group had considerable success, touring the United States, performing with Nat King Cole at the Tropicana, and recording an album for RCA Victor.

In 1959 Portuondo recorded a solo album, Magia Negra, involving both jazz and Cuban music. This didn’t, however, mark the beginning of a solo career, and although Haydee left the group in 1961 in order to live in the U.S., Omara continued singing with Cuarteto las d’Aida until 1967.

In 1967 Portuondo embarked on a solo career, and in the same year represented Cuba at the Sopot Festival in Poland, singing Juanito Marquez’ “Como un Milagro”. Alongside her solo work, in the 1970s she sang with charanga band Orquestra Aragon, and toured with them both in the Communist and non-Communist worlds.

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