Omara Portuondo’s family history is a romantic New World saga. Her mother was born into a rich Spanish family and was expected to marry within her social caste, but instead eloped with a Cuban baseball player—a black man. Omara began her show business career as a dancer at the fabled Tropicana in Havana. With her sister Haydeé and others, she formed a female vocal quartet, Cuarteto Las D’Aida in the early 50s, a group that achieved widespread acclaim and remained together for fifteen years. Omara loved both American jazz (early in her career, she worked with Nat King Cole) and the romantic legacy of Cuban music—coming to be known as the “fianceé of feeling.”
While her sister went into exile in the U.S., Omara remained in Cuba, lending her vocal talents to numerous bands, as well as cutting several albums. Ry Cooder met her in Havana before the sessions for Buena Vista, and the following year, during the legendary sessions, Omara happened to be recording at EGREM Studios at the same time. Cooder immediately enlisted her for the project, setting up her memorable collaborations with Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo. Because of the success of the Buena Vista projects, Portuondo has had a hectic, international touring schedule, but she also continues to perform at her favorite spots in Havana.