Fidel Castro and the Grammies, Hits Since 1959
On February 16, 1959, Fidel Castro became the prime minister of Cuba; that same year the Grammy Awards were born in Los Angeles, and both later turned into lasting American institutions.
Castro, now 80, would go on to become Cuba’s president in 1976, the year the current parliamentary system was inaugurated.
Hated by the wealthy exile community in Miami and revered by most people on the island, Fidel has repeatedly been reelected. He is currently sidelined from public life while he continues to recover from intestinal surgery.
The Grammy Awards were presented for the first time in 1959. Domenico Modugno won best record of the year for “Nel Blue Dipinto de Blu (Volare)”; Henri Mancini had the best album with The Music from Peter Gunn, and the best country and western performance went to the Kingston Trio for “Tom Dooley.”
The best female individual jazz performance went to Ella Fitzgerald and the top male jazz performance to Count Basie. The Champs had the top Rhythm and Blues hit with “Tequila” and Ross Bagdasarian Sr. had the best children’s song with "The Chipmunk Song."
Forty-nine years later, both the Cuban Revolution and the Grammies have not only survived but flourished and at times have even teamed up with many Cuban artists like pianist Chucho Valdez, and the late singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo winning important awards.
Cultural, sports, academic and people-to-people exchange between the two neighboring countries would undoubtedly blossom if it wasn’t for the nearly half century US blockade against the island.
Speaking at the 16th International Cuba Book Fair in Havana this Valentine’s Day, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, a 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, praised Fidel Castro’s ability to back up his commitment to justice not only in Cuba but around the globe.
Soyinka, who acknowledged Cuba’s major contribution to African independence from colonial European powers, said if Fidel was a little younger, “We’d like to borrow him for a few years in my country.”
He added that the ongoing Cuban scholarship program for young Nigerian and other African medical students to study on the island — a program begun by Fidel Castro — is an important contribution to the future of the African continent.
More than just any year
The year 1959 began in Cuba with dictator Fulgenicio Batista fleeing the country on January 1, as Fidel Castro marched into the eastern city of Santiago to proclaim the rebel army victory. Two days later, Alaska became the 49th State of the United States.
On January 7, 1959, the late Charles De Gaulle was inaugurated as the first president of the French Fifth Republic; he would remain in office until 1969. Fidel Castro arrived triumphantly in Havana on January 8, 1959. He has since survived hundreds of CIA assassination attempts.
On January 9, 1959, Argentine born Ernesto “Che” Guevara was proclaimed a Cuban citizen for his contribution to Cuba’s liberation. Later that year Guevara would travel to Europe, Africa and Asia and sign a number of commercial, technical and cultural agreements. Later in the year Guevara would be named president of the Central Bank of Cuba.
While Cuba was still celebrating its revolution, on February 3, 1959, musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash.
During that same year, women in Nepal voted for the first time while a referendum in Switzerland denied females the right to vote.
The Barbie doll made its debut in 1959, the Marx Brothers made their last TV appearance and an attempt to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic failed.
Personalities born in 1959 included singer Sade, tennis champ John McEnroe, basketball star Magic Johnson, actress Nastassja Kinski and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Singer Billie Holliday, actor Errol Flynn, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and boxer Max Baer were some of the year’s most notable deaths.
In Cuba, the loss of rebel hero Camilo Cienfuegos, who died in a tragic plane crash into the sea after leading an offensive against counter-revolutionaries, was hard felt and Camilo has been remembered by school children every year since.
In April 1959, Fidel Castro traveled to the United States on an unofficial visit to Washington and New York to discuss Cuba’s young revolution.
Several landmark events occurred in Cuba during 1959, including the proclamation of the country’s first agrarian reform law, a drastic reduction in rents and electric rates and an end to institutionalized racism. The Cuban revolution had just begun to spread its wings.