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A Look at the Rich History of

Latin American Music in

Washington, DC


Dear Friends of Latino Culture in Washington, DC, a Latino cultural historic landmark, the Wilson Center complex, located along 16th St., NW at Irving St in El Barrio Latino, faces an immediate risk of being sold by it's owners, the national Presbyterian Church.  This web site pays tribute to the powerful cultural magnet and incubator that Centro Wilson has been for over thirty years.  We encourage you to contact El Centro de Arte's director Lilo Gonzalez to find out how you can help save El Centro Wilson from ceasing to be our community's oldest and most precious artspace.            

- Chuck Goolsby,  June 28, 2001


(The below is a flyer first printed on July 11, 1998 by Chuck Goolsby for the 1998 New Song Festival, in honor of our musician ancestors,MAESTROS: María Rodriguez, Luis Salomé and Alfredo Mojíca, Sr.)


 

A Few Words About the History

of the "Wilson Center"

(And a cultural history of the corner of

15th & Irving St.s, NW, DC.)

 

During the 1960's and 1970's, Latin American progressive musicians began performing and recording music which spoke directly to the poor and oppressed peoples of their countries and Latin America regarding their collective social condition.  In many countries this artistic expression was a way around the strictures imposed by dictatorships on free political speech.

The American equivalent of the 'New Song' tradition is probably best reflected by the music of progressive artist such as Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, and those thousands of artists who lent their talents to the movements in support of the Civil Rights movements in 1960's and '70's America.

WPFW, 89.3-FM in Washington, DC has Latin music programming Monday through Friday,  from 9  to 10 PM. Much of the music played on those programs is of the 'New Song' tradition.  Tuesday night's programmer plays more traditional 'New Song' material, which tends to be on the folkloric side of musical styles.  Other programmers focus more on modern danceable Afro-Caribbean music, which also reflect expressions of the aspirations of oppressed peoples.

Here in Washington, DC, The Wilson Center was host to dozens of human rights fairs and festivals during the late 1970's and early 1980's.  These events were organized around providing a traditional Latino expression to political organizing and fundraising for community organizations and for groups fighting for human rights in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.  Indigenous cultural events were also a feature of cultural celebrations at Centro Wilson. The New Song Movement's local exponents, Latino and American, found in the Wilson Center a friendly community social space to grow and present their art.  They shared that space with Latino musicians of all beliefs and musical styles.

In addition to El Centro de Arte, the Latin American Youth Center, then in the same complex, provided space for the Escuela de Rumba (school of Rumba), which existed from 1978 to 1982.  This community music school was founded by veteran Latin and Latin Jazz musicians Maria Rodriguez and Luis Salome, as well as Dominican singing star Camboy Estevez and local journalist Jose Sueiro, director of DC's largest Latino newspaper: La Nación).

Maria Rodriguez, an African American music teacher for over 30 years in the DC Public Schools and at the University of Maryland, trained many local Latin musicians in piano, theory, voice, orchestration, arrangement and composition.  A co-founder of the School of Rumba, Maria was a giant in the Latin-Jazz and Latin-Salsa music scene here in Washington, DC since the late 1950's when she performed with Latin percussionist Paul Hawkins.  Her Thursday night rehearsals with her 14 piece Latin big band, held in her basement on 13th St. NW were a true DC institution.  Hours of hard practice, laughter and always serious home cooked food after the hard work.  Many Salsa veterans in DC learned their craft from Maria.  Her daughter, June Butler, who recorded on the original Cosby Show Latin theme, carries on her mother's tradition, being a veteran music teacher in the DC public schools and an accomplished Jazz pianist and recording artist.

Afro-Cuban Bassist and folklorist Luis Salomé, who spent more than 40 years in the DC area, was a member of many top Cuban bands in the 1940’s.  His house was the place where music star percussionist Mongo Santamaria and other famous Latin artists would stay when in town.  The school of Rumba was largely the idea of Don Luis Salomé, who taught Afro-Cuban folklore there.

Close by to the Wilson Center complex exists the Bell Multicultural High School.  Nicaraguan composer and trumpet player Alfredo Mojíca, Sr. was a music teacher at Bell, and was a famous Latin-Jazz band leader in DC for several decades, continuing to perform live even after serious heart surgery.  His son, top Latin percussionist Alfredo Mojíca, Jr. carries on his father's traditions.

Together these three veterans of the Washington, DC area Latino Music Scene provided local musicians with the knowledge of our ancient multicultural musical roots together with a solid foundation in music theory.

While Maria Rodriguez, Luis Salomé and Alfredo Mojíca, Sr., local giants in Latin music, with careers dating back to the late 1950's in DC's Latin and Jazz music scene have passed on to the other side, they are warmly remembered.  They are the spiritual ancestors of many of those who play on our stages today. They provided much of the musical training and experience in both folkloric and commercial styles of Afro-Cuban and other Caribbean Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Latin Jazz for professional musicians and other interested students.  The musicians who participated in The School of Rumba have since that time (1978 to 1982) formed the base of the veteran talent playing in DC's local commercial Latin dance bands.

The July 11, 1999 New Song Festival was dedicated to María Rodriguez, Luis Salomé and Alfredo Mojíca, Sr.  Their decades of tireless and patient work in teaching musical culture lives on in the dozens of talented local musicians who were lucky enough to cross their paths.

The Centro de Arte's percussion workshop, a descendent of 'LA Escuela de Rumba' performed on July 11th under the leadership of star Puerto Rican percussionist José López, a former fellow student at La Escuela de Rumba.  Musicians of the Lilo Gonzalez and his ‘Los de la Mount Pleasant’ (The folks from the Mount Pleasant barrio) Latin band, musicians of the Luciano Castro band and other musicians present also represented the legacy of what Doña Maria, Don Luis and Don Alfredo have left in this community, on this corner and in our hearts.

Another cultural landmark existing on this corner is El Centro de Arte.  Since the mid 1970’s El Centro de Arte has played a key role in developing Latino performance and graphic arts talent in this community.  They provide performance space, music education and other resources to many local Latino musicians, had their own in-house theater group 'El Teatro Nuestro' (Our Theater) and supported Latino graphic artists, providing gallery space to them.  Also connected to El Centro de Arte in the 1970’s and 1980’s was the local folkloric quartet Rumisonko (Heart of Stone in Quechua, a language of the Inca Empire) directed by local graphic artist Carlos Arrien.  Originally founded by Carlos and other Bolivian and Chilean students at nearby Montgomery College in Maryland, Rumisonko was the first Andean music group in DC, performing Bolivian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Chilean and other folkloric music, fusing the Indigenous Inca bamboo panpipes and flutes with Spanish Guitar, and the Charango (a small 10 string ‘Indigenous mandolin’ made from an armadillo shell).  DC now counts dozens of such groups, but Rumisonko was first on the scene.

Veteran African American Blues, Latin and progressive music performer Luci Murphy, who performed July 11th with daughter Topaz and fellow musician Peter Jones, was and is an important contributor to DC’s unique multicultural version of ‘New Song’ and other progressive, Jazz and Blues vocal music.

Last but not least veteran percussionist and band leader Luciano Castro and his orquesta performed.  He and some other members of this top-notch Dominican Merengue music dance band have performed in DC since 1965!  

Remembered with deep appreciation and respect on this list  also are our local pride of Mexico, singer-activist Rudy Arredondo, and our friends from the Mexican mariachi groups Mariachi Los Amigos and Mariachi Las Americas, as well as the dozens of music students, music supporters and other artists who walked through this center and made its history for all in DC.

Our July 11th event held special significance for the folks who originally participated in building the Latino musical renaissance in Washington, DC in the 1970's and 1980's.  After a long dormancy, the type of grass roots people's cultural event held on July 11th, 1998 is being revived, for many of the same reasons which gave birth to that movement in the DC in the late 1970's.  The need to provide community space for cultural enjoyment while also providing the  community with a place to meet each other and empower itself through exchanges of ideas and a sharing of cultures.

I hope that gives folks a little more background on cultural history of the Latino community and the Wilson Center's central role in that legacy.  The revival of such a cultural space after nearly 20 years of existance is historic and will likely be smiled upon by many long-time residents of the local community.  

Chuck Goolsby, July 11th, 1998

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The below section has been added June 28, 2001.  This web site is being posted at this time in recognition of the cultural crisis and loss that the sale of the Wilson Center Complex by its owners (The national body of the Presbyterian Church) will cause to the community it resides in.  The tenant organizations of Wilson Center have struggled for many years to raise the money needed to buy the building outright, something that the current recession makes less likely.  Gentrification (the buying up of urban property by middle class professionals) is impacting the Columbia Heights area, especially since a new Metro station opened one block away from Wilson Center, endangering El Centro's future.

As one can see, a LOT of culture has come through Wilson Center.  The community continues to need that resource, especially the young people who face few other recreational choices in this historic multicultural community.

Chuck Goolsby, June 28th, 2001

 

Being a former member of these Wilson Center affiliated performing groups from 1978 through 2001 and beyond:

 

Maria y Sus Magnificos Classic big band Salsa and Latin Jazz - with Maria Rodriguez
Los Professionales 9 years working with Don Rámon Lara, past trumpet player with the famed Los Hermanos Flores (Flores Brothers) from El Salvador.  Cumbia, Merengue, Salsa.
Lucy Murphy and Friends Vocal New Song, Folklore, Jazz, Blues
Steve and Peter Jones Vocal New Song, Labor, Folklore
Rumisonko  (Inca-Heart in Stone) Bolivian, other Andean traditional music.  Affiliated with El Centro de Arte.
Rumiñahui   (Inca-Face of Stone) Inca music, dance folklore from Ecuador
Image Band The top Trinidadian and Virgin Islands Calypso (and Reggae) band in DC.
Choc Combo Haitian Big Band Compa dance music
Teatro Nuestro Band Andean, Latin-Caribbean, Colombian Folk Fusion theater group performers
Afro Nuevo (New Afro) Modern Afro-Cuban percussion based commercial dance music and folklore, founded by Cuban 1980 immigrant Roberto Dominiche, one of Cuba's top drummers and former Irakere member.  R.D. still plays nightly at Habana Village.
La Escuela de Rumba Student Band Student group of the school of Rumba (Afro Cuban Folklore)
La Orquesta de Tulio Arias Cuban classic 1940's, 1950's Son, Son Montuno, Cha-Cha and Salsa with Tulio Arias, former bass player for La Sonora Matancera (Celia Cruz' home band), piano, vocals, theory and percussion teacher and true mentor to young musicians at the School of Rumba.  Active performer in DC since the 1960's.
Ballet Folclorico de Patricia Medina Colombian Folkloric (Afro-Indian) Cumbia
Esto No Tiene Nombre Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican folkloric Rumba, Son, Merengue, Bomba, Plena and Bolero.  Don Luis Salomé-Bass, Camboy Estevez-vocals, Pedro Julio Velasquez, accordion.
(Rody for) Los Hijos de Adolfo Sax (The Sons of Adolfo Sax) - Their name honors the Adolfo Sax, the Saxophone's inventor) Classic Dominican Merengue from the DC members of the Primitivo Santos Band who arrived in 1965 and stayed here while hit star Primitivo went to NYC.  Camboy Estevez on vocals.
(Rody for) Las Estrellas del Son (The Stars of the Son) Classic 1940's, 1950's Cuban Son music (the folkloric root of modern day Salsa music) - Don Luis Salome-Bass.
(Rody for) Kubata and Cubanacan Afro-Cuban, mostly Yoruba Folklore Masters and recording artists
The Malcolm X Park Dancers and Drummers African drummers and friends keeping alive over 30 years of drumming at malcolm X Park, where Gil Scott Heron started his career as poet and musician
Pedro Julio Band The long-lasting and most unique Latin dance band in DC, founded by Pedro Julio Velasquez, who passed it on to veteran Newyorquino bongocero Edwin Ortiz, who turned it into Orquesta La Romana, one of DC's top salsa bands.
Marino y Sus Vallenatos Colombian Vallenato dance music
Ivan Cuesta y Sus Vallenatos Colombian Vallenato dance music
Federico y sus Vallenatos Colombian Vallenato and Cumbia from Federico Betancour of the Patricia Medina Folklore Ballet
(Drummer for) The Dance Place Who's owner Carla Perlo, and Steve Bloom were students of La Escuela de Rumba from 1978through 1982.
Celso Lopez Cumbia Dance Band

...And not forgetting the many other Latino performing groups who are not part of my resume and had/have deep ties to Wilson Center: Lilo Gonzalez y Los de la Mount Pleasant, Paul Hawkins and "La Jazz," Peligro, Orquesta Melao, Rumba Club, Acaramelao, Lita Branda, Super Combo Melodia, Izalco, Mezcla, Xiomara and many others.

 

Thanks to all who made & make El Centro Wilson

our cultural landmark!

¡¡Viva el Centro Wilson!!

Long Live the Wilson Center!!

Los Profesionales Band - 1990 at the Latino Festival on the Smithsonian Natural History Museum Stage.

Leader Ramon Lara (2nd right), Chuck Goolsby (right) 

Rumiñahui

Folkloric music and dance from Ecuador

OAS building, Washington, DC - circa 1986.

Marta Romero, Director.

Chuck Goolsby (2nd/right, back row). 

July 19, 2001 - These musical traditions can be enjoyed every Sunday afternoon during the Spring, Summer and early Fall, from Noon until 9 PM at DC's coolest open air musical jam session at Malcolm X Park (home of the Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers).  All musicians and public of all races, creeds and ages are truly welcome!

Bring your African percussion, your other drums, maracas, flutes, etc.!

Join folks from all walks of life in celebrating natural music and dance in DC's truly original folklore.

Malcolm X Park is located along 16th Street at the corner of Champlain Street (the park runs for two blocks along 16th St.).  Just North of 16th and Florida Ave, and 2 blocks South of 16th St. at Columbia Rd.