1968 First Latin Music Entertainment Awards

Latin Beat Magazine ,  Oct, 2002   by Max Salazar

In 1968, thirty-eight years after Hispanic entertainment began to flourish in New York City, a magazine called Latin New York Magazine honored this city's Latin music artists for the first time.

During the summer of 1930, the San José Theatre at 5th Avenue between 110th and 111th streets became the city's first movie house to show Spanish-speaking movies. The theatre also provided live entertainment between shows. A number of well-known Puerto Rican artists got their start on this stage. Composer Rafael Hernández, dancer Diosa Costello, vocalist Daniel Santos, and pianist/bandleader Noro Morales are just a few of a long list of prominent names who performed on this stage and later rose to fame. Vocalist, dancer and actress Olga San Juan, who danced with Tito Puente for children's shows at Spanish Harlem's La Milagrosa Catholic Church during presentations of "Stars of the Future," made her motion picture debut in 1945.

Encouragement, exposure, steady employment and recognition are necessary in this competitive entertainment business in order to achieve fame and survive. Most Latin entertainers have realized all of these lifelines, except recognition, to a certain degree. Without recognition, encouragement, exposure and employment are insufficient to nurture a promising career. Recognition is also necessary for posterity if a history of a culture is to be chronicled. No one would have ever known about Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller unless their musical contributions were recorded. Search the libraries and you'll find a number of books about popular Dixieland and jazz musicians written by Nat Hentoff, Leonard Feather and a host of others. There are not as many books written about Latin musicians. Arsenio Rodríguez and Noro Morales were performing at the same time their jazz counterparts were, yet there is no documentary evidence that Morales and Rodríguez were ever honored or their talents ever recognized. Noro Morales died on January 15, 1964 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Arsenio Rodríguez passed away in Los Angeles on December 31, 1970. Unfortunately, these two Latin music giants died without once receiving a literary tribute.

Thirty-eight years elapsed after the opening of the San José Theatre before the elite of New York's Latin music world would earn their niche in Latin music's hall of fame.

On November 8, 1968, Latin musicians were honored for the first time in four decades at the plush Albert Hall Ballroom at New York City's Hotel Americana. The ballroom, located on the sublevel floor, was filled with an aura of excitement, sophistication and romance. The dimly lit recessed lamps hidden by strands of drooping crystal teardrop chandeliers created an atmosphere of warm elegance like that of an exquisite cozy cocktail lounge lit by soft blue and red lamps. Adding to this elegance were men in white tie and beautiful women garbed in their evening gowns, furs, fashionable sequined pantsuits and eyebrow-raising mini-skirts. Providing the music for this gala affair was the cream of José Curbelo's Alpha Artists Agency: Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ricardo Ray, and Orquesta Broadway.

Peter Rios, founder and publisher of the first Latin New York Magazine, was responsible for this night of recognition. For three months prior to the event, Rios printed ballots on the back of his magazine. The ballots were torn off, filled out and mailed back. The highest number of ballots cast for one of not more than seven and less than four artists in individual categories determined the winners. At exactly midnight the anticipated moment of recognition became a reality. The ballroom, filled with the same excitement that accompanies the Hollywood Academy Awards, had its lights dimmed while a high intensity narrow spotlight beam focused on the bandstand and caught NY's Izzy Sanabria and Ralph Lew tugging on a microphone. Dick Ricardo Sugar, the popular English speaking DJ, broadcast the award presentations live over WHBI radio. The large dance floor, surrounded by a horseshoe arrangement of tables, began to fill with people elbowing and inching by each other to get nearer to the bandstand. After Rios introduced his magazine's staff, the presentations got underway.

The LNY (abbreviated form of Latin New York, the award statuette's name), was awarded 22 times. Two special awards were also made.
George Goldner of Cotique Records awarded vocalist/bandleader Joey Pastrana a gold record for his hot selling hit Ricki Chi in Puerto Rico.
The following year, Pastrana's recording of Rumors was speculated to have sold 250,000 units because of the airplay received on Latin, jazz
and R&B radio programs. The last award of the evening was the most deserving of all.
Peter Rios handed a special LNY award to dance promoter Federico Pagani in recognition of Pagani's success in promoting Latin music since
the 1940s. During this time period, Pagani was filling up Lightweight World Boxing champ Carlos Ortiz's Bronx Tropicoro Club on Westchester