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Hollywood Bowl Museum spotlights Latino artists

'Musica y Sabor' looks at musicians who have performed there since 1924.

August 28, 2011
  • 1940s: Bandleader Xavier Cugat conducts a Hollywood Bowl rehearsal with a pre-"I Love Lucy" Desi Arnaz.
1940s: Bandleader Xavier Cugat conducts a Hollywood Bowl rehearsal with… (Otto Rothschild Collection,…)

In a way, it all began with "¡Bienvenido Gustavo!," the 2009 Hollywood Bowl mega-concert celebrating Gustavo Dudamel's arrival as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The young Venezuelan's popularity and passion for music and education helped create "such a galvanizing day for the community," recalls Carol Merrill-Mirsky, director of the Hollywood Bowl Museum and Archives. She thought about "other Latino performers who galvanized their audiences" — Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo and L.A. multicultural fusion band Ozomatli came to mind — "and then, I found myself wanting to find out more about what happened in the years before them."

Hence, the idea behind "Música y Sabor: Latino Artists at the Hollywood Bowl," which opened at the museum this summer. The bilingual exhibit, curated by Merrill-Mirsky and consultant Betto Arcos, the Tuesday host of KPFK-FM's "Global Village," chronicles what Merrill-Mirsky calls the Bowl's "unexpectedly rich history of classical, pop, jazz and world music from Latinos in the Western Hemisphere and Spain."

The story is told through photographs (including those of an elegant Yma Sumac, a soulful Carlos Santana and a cool Willie Colón), videos and touch screens that link to the historical images and audio clips that form the heart of the show. There's also a dance floor, if anyone feels inspired by the music playing throughout the upstairs gallery.

Merrill-Mirsky says the earliest event in the exhibit is a 1924 Philharmonic concert with Mexican composer-conductor Eduardo Vigil y Robles (listed in the program as "Eduardo Vigel") and soprano Alma Real. Among other highlights: visits by composer-conductor Carlos Chávez, a major figure in 20th century Mexican music and culture. He made his Bowl debut in 1937 and returned several times, including for the 1955 "Festival of the Americas," where he joined Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão and the Phil for a program that included his "Sinfonia India" and works by Ginastera and Villa-Lobos.

The Bowl also featured famous popular and crossover performers, such as Carmen Miranda, Desi Arnaz and Xavier Cugat. A 1959 "Pops" show brought together Chilean bolero singer Lucho Gatica, Mexican ranchera queen Lola Beltrán, Ricardo Montalban and Nat King Cole. Over the years, the Bowl's Latin lineups have grown even more eclectic, tapping genres such as Afro-Cuban jazz, bossa nova, salsa, Latin jazz and rock.

Merrill-Mirsky hopes "Música y Sabor," which runs through spring, "shows that Latino artists have been part and parcel of our concerts" during the venue's 90 seasons. "We can be so focused on the present," she says, "it may come as a surprise to see how much they have contributed throughout our history."

—Karen Wada

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