Omara Portuondo Peláez (born 29 October 1930) is a Cuban singer and dancer. A founding member of the popular vocal group Cuarteto d'Aida, Portuondo has collaborated with many important Cuban musicians during her long career, including Julio Gutiérrez, Juanito Márquez and Chucho Valdés. Although primarily known for her rendition of boleros, she has recorded in a wide range of styles from jazz to son cubano. Since 1996, she has been part of the Buena Vista Social Club project, touring extensively and recording several albums with the ensemble. She won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Tropical Album in 2009 and a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, and she received three Grammy Award nominations.
In 1967, Portuondo began to focus on her solo career, recording two albums for Areito, Omara Portuondo and Esta es Omara Portuondo. In the same year she represented Cuba at the Sopot Festival in Poland, singing Juanito Márquez' "Como un milagro". Alongside her solo work, in the 1970s she sang with the charanga Orquesta Aragón, and toured with them abroad.
In 1974, she recorded with guitarist Martín Rojas, an album in which she lauds Salvador Allende and the people of Chile a year after the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Among other hits from the album, she sang Carlos Puebla's hit "Hasta Siempre, Comandante", which refers to Ché Guevara.
She also recorded "Y que se sepa", with one of the most successful Cuban bands of the late 20th century, Los Van Van. Later on she performed with Juan Formell, singing Formell's song "Tal vez", a song she recorded later on with Maria Bethania. During the 1970s and 1980s, Portuondo enjoyed success at home and abroad, with tours, albums (including one of her most lauded recordings in 1984 with Adalberto Álvarez), film roles, and her own television series.
In 2004, the International Red Cross appointed her International Ambassador, the first Cuban musician to hold this title, in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, she performed the title role to sold out audiences in Lizt Alfonso's dance musical "Vida", the story of modern Cuba through the eyes and with the memories of an old woman. In this same year, her performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival was released on DVD. She recorded in 2008 a duet album with Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia named Maria Bethânia e Omara Portuondo.
Buena Vista Social Club
Portuondo sang (duetting with Ibrahim Ferrer) on the album Buena Vista Social Club in 1996. This led not only to more touring (including playing at Carnegie Hall with the Buena Vista troupe) and her appearance in Wim Wenders' film Buena Vista Social Club, but to two further albums for the World Circuit label: Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo (2000) and Flor de Amor (2004). She remains a member of Buena Vista Social Club, being the only original vocalist to do so.
In 2008, she recorded the album Gracias as a tribute to the 60th anniversary of her singing career. Today, Omara lives in a high-rise apartment just off the Malecón, Havana, overlooking the sea. She remains a popular fixture on the local music scene, singing regularly at the Tropicana Club, the Delirio Habanero and the Café Cantante. More than 150 album recordings including singles and compilations, her latest album Omara Portuondo was released by World Circuit in 2019, where she also received The Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award along with three Grammy nominations.
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