Pre-Castro Cuba was a paradise known for cigars, rum and the music of Olga Guillot. Throughout her career Olga Guillot had 14 records that went gold and 10 platinum. She appeared in 20 movies and was the first Latin entertainer to perform in Carnegie Hall. The “Queen of the Bolero” was known among Cubans in the exile community as “Olga de Cuba”. To us Olga wasn’t a world known celebrity, she was family. Throughout the past 25 years we experienced the highs and lows of life together, comforting each other during difficult moments and celebrating the good ones.
Just a few weeks ago Olga Guillot stopped by Cuban Crafters to visit, as was customary when she was in Miami. She had been traveling but rushed back to Miami because her sister was ill. Olga was 87 years old, strong and full of life. Together we enjoyed drinking Johnnie Walker Blue Label as I smoked cigars with her cousin who was visiting from New Jersey. She was concerned about her sister but was taking it well, and even sang part of one of her popular Spanish songs. Little did we know that it would be her last song. Olga Guillot passed away a few days later after suffering a heart attack.
Her wake and funderal was attended by thousands, all remembering Olga the mother, celebrity and Cuban patriot. I couldn’t help remembering some of her stories. After Fidel Castro took over Cuba the nightclubs and casinos were shut down by his government. Shortly thereafter she was contacted by Castro’s thugs who informed her of the limited venues where she can sing. At the time she was Cuba’s top performing artist. When they told her the songs that she can sing, and those she couldn’t, she fled the country and became an anti-Castro activist. Fidel Castro banned her music in Cuba and ordered that her name not be mentioned by anyone working for the state-owned television and radio stations. Castro erased her name from history in Cuba.
Olga always did it her way, and left us as the star that she was. She went to the wake of a friend at night where she started feeling chest pains and discomfort. Thinking that it was just indigestion she headed home. In the early morning hours the pain was getting worse so her daughter told her that she was taking her to the hospital. She was rushed out in her nightgown when she stopped and demanded a dress. After getting dressed she put on her makeup. As they were getting ready to leave she stopped again, look down and said “I’m not going in these slippers, get me my high heel shoes”. Not wanting to argue with her, the daughter brought the shoes. They matched her dress. She took off her slippers and put on the shoes. As she walked out the door Olga looked back into her home and said that she wasn’t coming back and wanted to go out as Olga Guillot, the star.
Olga, we love you and miss you. Once a week I’ll look at the special gift you gave me for Hanukkah that sits on my desk and smoke a cigar thinking about all those good times when we celebrated together.