Don’t ever tell Angela Álvarez it’s too late for dreams to come true – the 95-year-old just brought home a Latin Grammy for best new artist, becoming the award show’s eldest winner ever.
The Cuban American musician’s crowning moment came after decades of writing songs but performing them only for friends and family – until, at the age of 90, she went to the Avalon, the historic Hollywood nightclub, and gave her first concert.
Her grandson, Carlos, eventually recorded her songs on to an album with the help of the actor and fellow Cuban who hosted that concert: Andy García. The self-titled record came out last year, setting up her nomination at Thursday’s edition of the Latin Grammys and a shared win with Silvana Estrada.
“To those who have yet to make their dreams come true, know that although life is hard, there’s always a way out and with faith and love everything can be achieved,” Álvarez said in her acceptance speech.
It’s hard to overstate some of the obstacles she had to overcome to make her mark on the music industry.
Growing up in pre-revolutionary Cuba, her father and grandfather forbade her from pursuing her love of music. But she wrote songs in secret, as she got married and had children.
Then the Cuban revolution that led to decades of leadership under Fidel Castro unfolded, and Álvarez made what she has called her life’s most difficult decision: sending her four children to the United States. They went as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which saw more than 14,000 children sent to the US during Cuba’s revolutionary era between 1960 and 1962.
Álvarez eventually joined her children in the US, delayed by paperwork problems, the Miami Herald reported. The family settled in the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. But life continued testing her faith – she lost her husband and her only daughter to cancer.
Nevertheless, she kept up with her songwriting and singing, mostly sharing her work only with those closest to her.
That changed when she agreed to take part in a documentary named Miss Angela, which chronicles her upbringing in Cuba and her preparing for her first concert at the Avalon. The documentary captured the moment that her host García – the Academy Award nominee – introduced himself and joked: “I heard you needed a bongo player.”
García, whom Álvarez described as her hero in Miss Angela, later gave her a role in the Father of the Bride remake he starred in. In the movie, she sings the Cuban musical standard Quiéreme Mucho, which means love me a lot.
Álvarez’s composer and producer grandson, Carlos, gave her the idea to go out to Los Angeles and record her self-titled debut album, People.com reported, citing the music publication Billboard.
“I called her up and I said, ‘Nana, do you want to do this?’ First she said [in Spanish], ‘I’m not going to Los Angeles! For what?’ And I say, ‘To record your album!’ And she’s like, ‘OK, I’m there!’”
After winning best new artist alongside Estrada at the 23rd annual Latin Grammys on Thursday, Álvarez encouraged all dreamers to keep their wildest hopes burning bright as she basked in front of a standing ovation at the Mandalay Bay Michelob Arena in Las Vegas.
“There are people who give up, but I did not give up – I always fought,” she said during her speech, which she dedicated to Cuba, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I promise you – it’s never too late.”