Angela Alvarez, 95, is nominated for the Latin Grammy Best New Artist

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Growing up in Cuba, Angela Alvarez wanted to be a singer. But after arriving in the United States as a young woman, she found herself cleaning up a bank in Colorado for a living.

It now seems nearly impossible that her longtime dream has come true: Alvarez has been nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. She is 95 years old.

“Sometimes I pinch myself,” Alvarez said from his home in Baton Rouge.

Alvarez composed his first song at age 14, already proficient on piano and guitar. She also liked to sing.

When she graduated from high school, Alvarez told her father that she wanted nothing more than to become a professional musician. He rejected the idea.

“You sing for the family, but not for the world,” she recalled telling him.

“I loved him so much,” Alvarez said. “I liked to be obedient.”

She put her professional activities aside and went through life, marrying at the age 19 and have four children – three boys and one girl.

Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, shaking up life as they knew it in their home country. Alvarez and her husband, Orlando – who was a sugar engineer – decided to flee to the United States.

Given his profession, Orlando was initially forced to stay in Cuba. Alvarez took her children – the youngest was 4 and the eldest 15 – to the airport in May 1962, but authorities also barred her from leaving the country, saying she had missing papers. Alvarez made the impossible decision to let his children go to the United States alone.

“It was very hard for me,” she recalls.

He made a wrong turn and saw a house on fire. He saved 4 siblings.

It took several months before she was allowed to leave Cuba, and once she arrived in Miami, she was not financially eligible to pick up her children – who were living in an orphanage in Pueblo, Colorado – through the welfare program assigned to them. at.

Finally, after not seeing her children for nearly two years, she found a job cleaning a bank in Pueblo and was able to spend time with her children on the weekends. She lived in a small apartment in the basement.

Amid her family’s predicament, Alvarez strove to fill her children’s lives with happiness, which she did through music. She invited other Cuban children living in the orphanage to join her family and sang songs to remind them of their home.

Alvarez’s husband arrived in the United States in July 1966 and they eventually settled in Baton Rouge as a family. Life was good for a while, until Orlando died of lung cancer in 1977 at the age of 53. Alvarez also lost his daughter to cancer in 1999.

Throughout the many challenges Alvarez has faced, she said, she relied on music to deal with the pain. During her lifetime, she composed a collection of around 50 songs, reflecting both the deep sadness and joy in her life.

“Music is the language of the soul,” Alvarez said.

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But his music was only enjoyed by his family and friends, as his father had taught him.

That changed about eight years ago when his grandson, Carlos José Alvarez, decided to record his songs. Carlos, who is a composer, grew up listening to his grandmother sing at family functions. His career, he says, was heavily influenced by her.

Whenever he visited his grandmother as a child, “she would grab a guitar and she would sing,” said Carlos, 42, who calls Alvarez “Nana.”

As his grandmother grew older, Carlos wanted to save her songs so his future great-grandchildren could marvel at her voice, which he described as “angelic and soulful”.

He brought a microphone to her house and asked her to go through his personal treasure trove of melodies.

“I just did it for my family,” Carlos said.

In the process, however, he unexpectedly learned a lot of information about his grandmother’s history, including her undying hope of becoming a singer.

“I didn’t realize that these songs were like a diary of his life. It all made sense,” he said. “You can hear the life she lived in her singing.”

“I was so inspired then,” Carlos said, adding that he decided he would one day take his grandmother to a recording studio and produce an actual album of her work.

He knew what that would mean to her.

“I told him one day that I would like to make a CD, because I would like people to know my music,” Alvarez said.

In the years that followed, Carlos focused on growing his own career. He put his grandmother’s future album on the back burner until 2016, when his friend Misha’al Al-Omar asked him: “Are you waiting for her to die?

The question “blew me away,” Carlos said. He arranged to bring his grandmother to Los Angeles, where he lives, to record his songs in a professional studio.

“She was getting super lit by it,” Carlos said.

“It was magnificent for me,” echoed Alvarez.

Along with producing his grandmother’s 15-track album titled Angela Alvarez, Carlos decided Alvarez’s story should also be the subject of a documentary film. A team of musicians he had assembled to work on the album wholeheartedly agreed.

“It’s too big to keep in the family,” he remembers thinking.

Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia, who is a friend of Carlos, heard about the story and was moved. He offered to produce and narrate the documentary called “Miss Angela”. The film chronicles Alvarez’s life, her love of music, and her journey to a singing career as a nonagenarian.

Both the documentary and the album were released in 2021, and Alvarez was thrilled with the outcome. Her dream of becoming a professional musician came true.

“I feel very happy and very proud,” said Alvarez, who performed her first public concert on her 91st birthday. The audience was captivated.

Over the past year, Alvarez’s career has taken off more than she ever thought possible. Garcia encouraged her to audition for the role of Tia Pili in the 2022 remake of “Father of the Bride” — which he stars in — and she got the part.

Still, the ultimate achievement so far has been Alvarez’s Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, which was announced in September.

“I thought that wasn’t true,” she said.

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Alvarez is attending the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards on Nov. 17 in Las Vegas with her grandson, and she’s scheduled to perform.

She said she hoped her story would teach people to “never say, ‘I can’t do it.’ You can do it. Always try.”

For Carlos, the appointment was also momentous.

“As a musician, we should always celebrate the music that came before us,” he said. “The fact that she was nominated for Best New Artist, for the music she started writing in the 1940s, is just amazing.”

“The idea that at 95 you can still be recognized for what you have done,” he continued, “is gold. We won. We won every levels.”

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