Cuban Memories: Commemorating 25 years of the Miami Symphony Orchestra

by Fernando Espino, CHC Web Communications Assistant

This Sunday marks the opening of The Miami Symphony Orchestra’s 25th season. The Cuban Heritage Collection holds the papers of the Orchestra’s founder, Cuban-born conductor Manuel Ochoa (1925-2006).

Maestro Ochoa seemed destined for a musical life. His mother Caridad was a famous opera singer in Cuba, and he showed a strong ability for music from an early age. After studying and working in Cuba, Spain, Vienna, and Rome, he settled in Miami after the Cuban Revolution and set about making music that would resonate with an international audience.

Manuel Ochoa was among the first of Miami’s Cuban exile artists to see the creative opportunities that the city could offer as the gateway to the Americas. In 1969, with María Julia Casanova, Ochoa conceived of the Centro de Artes de América (America’s Center for the Arts), a performing arts center to promote cultural collaboration across the Americas. Ochoa continued to pursue his inter-American ideals throughout the 1970s, co-founding the Sociedad Hispanoamericana de Arte (Hispanic American Society for the Arts), but his vision would finally become a reality in 1989 when he established a truly multicultural arts organization, The Miami Symphony Orchestra.

In June 2000, Maestro Ochoa fulfilled a lifelong dream. He led the Orchestra in a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City with music by Joaquin Turina, Joaquin Rodrigo, Alberto Ginastera, and Saint Saen’s masterpiece Symphony No. 3. Manuel Ochoa passed away in 2006, but his musical legacy survives in the ongoing work of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, and his everlasting mark on Miami’s cultural fabric.

In 1996, WLRN’s TV program Huellas interviewed Maestro Ochoa.  He spoke in depth about music, his career, and the culture of his adopted city. A copy of this interview can be found online and on DVD in the Manuel Ochoa Papers held by the Cuban Heritage Collection.


With thanks to WLRN-TV Channel 17 for permission to post this interview.

Cuban Memories: Celebrating Cuban singer Celia Cruz

Esperanza B. de Varona, Gladys Gómez-Rossié, Celia Cruz and Lesbia Orta Varona during a visit to Richter Library in 1999 when the University of Miami awarded Cruz an honorary doctorate in music.

This week we commemorate 10 years since the death of Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Internationally renowned as “La Guarachera de Cuba,” the award-winning singer graced us with over 50 years of iconic music that would become influential in the history of Cuban performance.

In 1999, Celia Cruz visited us at Richter Library when the University of Miami awarded her an honorary doctorate in music. At the time of her passing in 2003, we hosted an exhibition in her honor. Following her funeral, her husband Pedro Knight and the Municipios de Cuba en el Exilio presented us with the flag that draped her coffin during her wakes and funeral masses in Miami and New York. This flag is permanently on display in the Elena Díaz-Versón Amos conference room in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion.

The images shared here are from our collection of photographs, memorabilia, and clippings about Celia Cruz.


¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

Newly digitized are photographs documenting the career of the Cuban-born singer Rolando Laserie. Known as “El Guapo de la Canción” and “El Guapachoso” (the Ebullient One), Laserie performed with various musical groups including Benny Moré’s Banda Gigante and recorded many popular albums of boleros, guarachas, and other musical genres. Among his best known songs are “Sabor a Mi” and “Amalia Batista.” He was also famous for the interjection “¡de película!” (“out of a movie!”). Laserie and his wife Gisela went into exile in 1960, settling in Miami, Florida in the 1970s.

The 394 digitized photographs are viewable here. What follows is an account of working with the digitization process by Ana Rodriguez, our metadata assistant.

¡De Película! Getting to Know “El Guapo de la Canción” One Photograph at a Time

by Ana Rodríguez, CHC Metadata Assistant

Around the beginning of February I started working with the Rolando Laserie Papers, creating descriptive records (known in the library world as metadata) as part of the process of digitization. My job was to provide item-level description, which means that I had to create records for each and every item being scanned in the most detailed way possible. This includes not only technical or administrative information about the object being scanned (like information about how the object was scanned, the object’s genre, and its dimension), but also descriptive information about what the object is about, what it depicts, what subject headings it could be associated with, and so forth.

Part of the challenge with digitizing this collection was that its finding aid only describes the contents to the folder level; that is, you could only find out brief information about the contents of a certain folder overall, but not detailed information about each and every item within that folder. For instance, the papers include a folder titled “Panamá, n.d., 1957-1959” which is part of a series “Photographs: Outside Cuba, [1950]-[1990].” The series and folder titles give us a lead as to the contents of this particular folder, but it does not tell us that it contains specifically a photograph of Rolando Laserie signing a contract in Panama on December 1957. This means that for me to do my job, I have to do a bit of detective work, so that each item being digitized is described in such a way that will help people find it in our digital library.

In providing descriptive metadata lies the real challenge. Take the case of properly identifying and describing photographs. Sometimes, there are photographs with a caption or other description on the back of the photograph, or verso, which details exactly what is being depicted, who the people in the photograph are, and when it was taken. But other times, you come across a photograph where next to no context is given at all. There is a photograph, say, of Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men who appear to be barbecuing, and the verso bears no information other than that it was taken in Panama in 1958. Who are the two unidentified men? What was the occasion? Is this a photograph of Laserie enjoying a day off with several friends from Panama, or is Laserie celebrating with fellow musicians with whom he is collaborating? Without further evidence, these are speculations and so I could not say for sure. For this reason, the metadata could not say more than just “Rolando Laserie with two unidentified men.”

This can be particularly frustrating when you have a definite clue about what the photograph might be depicting, but nevertheless cannot verify it. Take this photograph of Rolando Laserie on a TV show with several unidentified people. Although there is text on the verso, it gives no concrete information about the TV show itself. The seal on the front reads “XHTV-4.” When I sought out more information on this acronym, I discovered that it is a Mexican TV station also known as Canal de la Ciudad (The City’s Channel), owned by the Mexican multimedia conglomerate Televisa. Since the photo was found in a folder titled “Mexico,” it made sense that this was a photograph taken on the set of a TV show featured on this channel. I searched further to see if Televisa made available anywhere an archive of old programs, but I could not find anything. I therefore had to leave it as it is now, without any information about the show itself. Again, we try to be as descriptive as possible, but we can only provide information that is absolute verifiable.

This is where we can use your help. Do you think you might know people that are being depicted in these photographs or what TV shows the photographs are from, or can provide context in any other way? Please take a moment to browse through these newly digitized images from the Rolando Laserie collection. There are somewhere between 30 and 50 photographs for which we were unable to provide fully detailed metadata. With your help, we can create more accurate and useful records to help others discover these images for many years to come. Leave a comment here or email me directly at