Never tell Angela Alvarez it’s too late for dreams to come true — the 95-year-old brought home the Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist, becoming the music awards show’s oldest winner ever.
The Cuban-American musician’s crowning moment came after decades of writing songs but performing them only for friends and family — so at the age of 90, she went to the Avalon, a historic Hollywood nightclub, and gave her first concert.
Eventually, her grandson Carlos recorded her songs on an album with the help of actor and fellow Cuban who hosted the concert: Andy García. The self-titled record debuted last year, securing her nomination at Thursday’s edition of the Latin Grammy Awards and a joint win with Silvana Estrada.
In her acceptance speech, Alvarez said, “For those who have not yet achieved their dreams, know that although life is difficult, there is always a way out and everything can be achieved with faith and love.”
It’s hard to overstate some of the hurdles she had to overcome to make her mark in the music industry.
Growing up in pre-revolutionary Cuba, her father and grandfather forbade her from pursuing her love of music. But she wrote the songs in secret, as she got married and had children.
Then the Cuban Revolution that led to decades of strife under Fidel Castro erupted, and Alvarez made what she calls the hardest decision of her life: sending her four children to the United States. They went as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which saw more than 14,000 children sent to the United States during revolutionary times in Cuba between 1960 and 1962.
Alvarez eventually joined her children in the US, delayed by paperwork issues, The Miami Herald reported. The family settled in the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. But life continued to test her faith – she lost her husband and only daughter to cancer.
However, she continued to compose and sing songs, often sharing her work with only those close to her.
That changed when she agreed to star in a documentary called Miss Angela, which chronicles her upbringing in Cuba and her preparation for her first concert in Avalon. The documentary captured the moment when Oscar-nominated host Garcia introduced himself and joked: “I heard you need a bongo player.”
García, whom Alvarez described as her heroine in Miss Angela, later gave her a role in Father of the Bride, in which he starred. In the film, she sings the Cuban musical standard Quiéreme Mucho, which means Love Me So Much.
Alvarez’s composer and producer, Carlos, gave her the idea to go out to Los Angeles and record her self-titled debut album, People.com reported, citing music publication Billboard.
“I called her and said, ‘Nana, do you want to do this?'” she said first [in Spanish]I’m not going to Los Angeles! Why?’ And I say, “To record your album!” And she says, “Okay, there I am!”
After winning Best New Artist alongside Estrada at the 23rd Annual Latin Grammys on Thursday, Alvarez encouraged all dreamers to keep their wildest hopes sparkling as she basked in a standing ovation at the Mandalay Bay Michelob Arena in Las Vegas.
“There are people who give up, 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 – it’s never too late.”