The Film

A historic, sepia-toned image singing while hitting a cymbal with a drumstick

A rebel and innovator, pop singer Lupe Yoli, otherwise known as La Lupe or La Yiyiyi, was renowned for her emotional performance style. Her renditions of classics such as “My Way,” “Fever” and “Going Out of My Head” were famous worldwide. But the legendary Cuban-born star was also a single mother of two, a survivor of domestic abuse and a Santera who later became an evangelist Christian speaker. LA LUPE QUEEN OF LATIN SOUL tells La Lupe’s story through character-driven interviews in first-person anecdotes, in an oral history much like those found in a folk ballad or a bolero.

Born in Cuba in 1936, La Lupe first hit La Habana’s music scene in the 1950s. Her older sister Norma Yoli describes her as “just another black girl from Santiago,” one who loved to imitate the singers she heard on the radio. One of these was Olga Guillot, who at the time was Cuba’s reigning bolero singer. As the Cuban Revolution dawned, La Lupe, like many artists at the time, left Cuba, claiming, “There was no room in Cuba for me and the revolution.” She emerged in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s as the Queen of Latin Soul, performing alongside peers such as Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.

Shot in New York City, Miami, La Habana and Puerto Rico, LA LUPE evokes two groundbreaking cultural periods through interviews and rare archival footage: pre-Revolutionary 1950s La Habana and the burgeoning Latin music scene in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. The film begins with La Lupe’s funeral in 1992—attended by fans, family and the whole of New York’s Latino music aristocracy—and follows her from poverty to celebrity and back again.

A long-time gay icon who was often described as the first performance artist, La Lupe was ahead of her time. In trying to discover who Lupe was, LA LUPE also provides a collective portrait of mid-20th-century Latin musical history.

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