The role that the Cheetah Club played in the beginnings of salsa in New York
As we all know, New York City has been instrumental in the birth of what is today known as salsa because this has been the place that has seen the birth and bloom of the greatest talents who have given life and added rhythm to this wonderful and fast-paced genre. That is why when we talk about the history of salsa, we cannot leave out the most populous metropolis in the United States.
We all know how important the city that never sleeps is to the development of this musical genre, but where and how does this set of rhythms specifically born? Right, well this was a now-defunct nightclub called Cheetah, which met all the conditions for giving birth to salsa and making it a cultural phenomenon, which is now known worldwide.
The establishment, located in an area full of theaters and nightclubs close to Times Square, witnessed a spectacular and historic evening in which, unexpectedly, brought together several of the biggest stars of Latin music, including Willie Colón, Ray Barreto, Bobby Valentín, among others. None of them could ever imagine that they would draw crowds eager to hear them. From that night on, the Latins finally had voices to make known to the rest of the planet their purest essence.
As soon as the band started playing, those present started to dance no matter what. According to calculations by a pianist for Fania All Stars, they gathered as many as two thousand attendees who were lined up around the block to enjoy the talent of some of the considered greatest exponents of Latin music. It should be noted that the artists from that night had never played together, but when they took the stage, everything went spontaneously and the audience fell madly in love with them. However, nothing was by chance.
How it all started
After the Second World War, Latin music and dance began to be present in New York City during the 20th century. This was due to the arrival of Cubans, Puerto Ricans and other immigrants from the southern part of Latin America, who brought with them a number of rhythms that started playing in discos and nightclubs from various US cities.
When these sounds arrived in the Big Apple, there was a very interesting mixture of these sounds with jazz and some instruments that were incorporated to have as a result what we know today as salsa. This is how some of the most popular genres began to be played and become famous in places near the Cheetah Club, so, as a logical consequence, the establishment would end up falling under the spell and rhythms of so cheerful melodies.
One of those places was the Palladium Ballroom, where artists such as Machito and Tito Puente performed. Of course, the public that gathered there was Latin in origin, but its privileged location in the heart of Manhattan made it very well known to the locals of any nationality. It got to the point where there were spectators from the five continents and of all religions, which was unthinkable with any other musical style.
This is how the great concert at the Cheetah Club succeeded in bringing Latin music to places nobody thought it could reach and all thanks to American artists with a Latin background that was very awake in their being.
How was the Cheetah club created and what became of its facilities?
The Cheetah club was created by Olivier Coquelin and Border Stevenson in 1968 when it was formally opened to the public. From the beginning, it had two spaces specially designed for dancing: a dance floor of reduced size located on the top floor and a bigger one which could accommodate about two thousand people at the same time. Likewise, there was a stage on which no less than 20 musicians could perform in the same show.
Although the club enjoyed a certain fame among the locals in the area, what really made it famous was the concert performed by the Fania All Stars on August 26, 1971. That was a day that will undoubtedly remain in many people’s mind forever, both attendees and musicians. This was the moment when the musical phenomenon initiated by Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci would reach well beyond what its creators have never dreamed of.
The idea of performing the show was conceived by Ralph Mercado, who would comment to Masucci on this. Given that the Cheetah Club had a large space and enviable acoustics, it was the place they finally selected for the historic concert.
Anyone seeing the place in which would be the colorful establishment would never imagine what happened there 50 years ago. At present, the formerly nightclub is a residential condominium of more than 20 floors housing large apartments with wide windows.
Although there is nothing left of the place that witnessed one of the greatest musical events in Latin music history, the memory of that special night will remain in the minds of those who witnessed such a waste of talent on that now-defunct platform in the 1970s.
For more information, you can read Génesis of Salsa, its essence, characteristics, rhythm, history and expansión and Where the idea of the name of the Fania Record label came from