Nat King Cole made his debut under the stars on the Tropicana’s outdoor stage in March of 1956 with a setlist of satiny American hits that were just as popular in Havana. Cole performed with Armando Romeu Jr.’s orchestra, the famed nightclub’s house band, which would later record the tracks for the King’s first album of swinging romantic Latin ballads in Spanish: Cole Español.
By this point, Cole had already shown his love for Latin rhythms when he appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall in 1949 with a band that included percussionist Jack Costanzo, the American player known as “Mr. Bongo.” So, upon Cole’s much-anticipated arrival in Havana, he seemed as enamored with Havana audiences – and Cuban musicians – as they were with him.
Listen to Nat King Cole’s Cole Español now.
In 1958, when Cole returned to the island for his third engagement at the Tropicana, he agreed to make a recording in Spanish, a language he did not speak, let alone sing. The job of successfully convincing him to do the album fell to Ramón Sabat, the owner of the pioneering Cuban label Panart Records, and the distributor for Cole’s label Capitol Records in Cuba. Sabat’s wife, Julia Sabat, and Bebo Valdés, the house pianist…