"Music has been my hope. It has given me the courage to climb out of poverty and touch the universe," says Celia Cruz. With 20-plus gold LPs in a career that spans four decades, Cuba's "Queen of Rhumba" recently received the Nosotros' Golden Eagle award for "Lifetime Achievement in Music." Taking time out from a busy concert schedule, Cruz just wrapped "Mambo Kings," her first English-speaking role. The soulful love story--which takes place in New York in 1953--was scripted by Cuban-born screenwriter Cynthia Cidre, based on Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer prize-winning novel, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love." The film stars Armand Assante and Spain's Antonio Banderas, with Tito Puente as himself, Desi Arnaz Jr. portraying his real-life father, and Cruz playing the owner of Harlem's Club Babalu. Warner Bros. has scheduled a November release.
Moving from mambos to mariachis, the popularity of recent mariachi fests in Tucson and Los Angeles has spawned the first Las Vegas International Mariachi Festival. Set for Sept. 14 at the Thomas & Mack Center, the festival features the famed Mexican mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Los Angeles' prominent Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez and Los Galleros de Pedro Rey. Also on the bill are Juan Fidel, a gifted 13-year-old who--although blind since birth--plays 23 instruments; the 75-member Ballet Folklorico de San Juan, and Las Perlitas Tapatias, an all-female mariachi band. Miss Universe, Mexico's Lupita Jones, and singer Jorge Muniz will emcee. Part of the proceeds will benefit underprivileged children in the United States and Mexico.