Never tell Angela Álvarez it’s too late to make dreams come true — the 95-year-old just took home a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist, making it the award show’s oldest-ever winner.
The Cuban-American musician’s pinnacle came after decades of writing songs but only performing them for friends and family—until, at the age of 90, she went to the Avalon, the historic Hollywood nightclub, and gave her first concert.
Her grandson, Carlos, eventually recorded her songs on an album with the help of the actor and fellow Cuban who organized that concert: Andy García. The self-titled record was released last year and earned her a nomination at the Thursday edition of the Latin Grammys and a tie for victory with Silvana Estrada.
“For those who have yet to fulfill their dreams, know that although life is difficult, there is always a way out and that with faith and love everything can be achieved,” Álvarez said in her acceptance speech.
It’s hard to overstate some of the obstacles she had to overcome to make her mark in the music industry.
Growing up in pre-revolutionary Cuba, her father and grandfather forbade her to pursue her love of music. But she wrote songs in secret, because she got married and had children.
Then unfolded the Cuban Revolution that led to decades of leadership under Fidel Castro, and Álvarez made what she called the hardest decision of her life: to send her four children to the United States. They went as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which sent more than 14,000 children to the US during Cuba’s revolutionary era between 1960 and 1962.
Álvarez eventually joined her children in the US, delayed by paperwork problems, the Miami Herald reported. The family settled in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. But life continued to test her faith – she lost her husband and her only daughter to cancer.
Nevertheless, she kept up her songwriting and singing, usually only sharing her work with those closest to her.
That changed when she agreed to take part in a documentary called Miss Angela, which details her upbringing in Cuba and her preparation for her first concert at the Avalon. The documentary captured the moment when her host García – the Academy Award nominee – introduced herself and joked, “I heard you needed a bongo player.”
García, who described Álvarez as her hero in Miss Angela, later gave her a role in the Father of the Bride remake in which he starred. In the film, she sings the Cuban music standard Quiéreme Mucho, which means you love me very much.
Álvarez’s grandson, composer and producer, Carlos, gave her the idea to go to Los Angeles and record her self-titled debut album, People.com reported, citing music publication Billboard.
“I called her up and I said, ‘Nana, do you want to do this?’ First she said [in Spanish], ‘I’m not going to Los Angeles! For what?’ And I say: ‘To record your album!’ And she said, ‘OK, I’m here!’”
After winning Best New Artist alongside Estrada at the 23rd Annual Latin Grammys on Thursday, Álvarez encouraged all dreamers to keep their wildest hopes burning as she basked in front of a standing ovation at Mandalay Bay Michelob Arena in Las Vegas.
“There are people who give you, but I didn’t give up — I always fought,” she said during her speech, which she dedicated to Cuba, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I promise you – it’s never too late.”