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An�bal/Andy V�zquezAníbal/Andy Vázquez

October 30, 1924 – June 30, 1999

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Aníbal Vázquez grew up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico where his father was the president of the local social dance club. He spent his childhood dancing to the best Puerto Rican bands, booked by his father to play for dances at the Club Mayagüezano. Aníbal was known locally as great dancer by the time he graduated from high school; his yearbook identified him as the “Fred Astaire Boricua.” Aníbal moved to San Juan to study at the University of Puerto Rico in 1944, where he continued to dance socially every chance he got. Shortly before his graduation in 1949, Aníbal made his first visit to New York City to follow his favorite band César Concepción, who were booked to play at the Palladium. While in New York, Aníbal was so impressed with New York Latin bands, including Jose Curbelo, Pupi Campo, and Machito, that he decided to move to New York upon graduation from college. Within a few months of his arrival, Aníbal Vázquez was hired to dance in the Palladium professional shows, taking on the stage name Andy. With his partner Joe Centeno, Andy Vázquez formed the first two-man precision dance team to perform at the Palladium—The Mambo Aces. Their dancing featured synchronized mambo footwork danced side-by-side and short solos in which each showed off rumba-inspired steps. Not only were the Mambo Aces the first two-man mambo dance act, they were the most successful. By many accounts, the Mambo Aces were second only to Augie and Margo in terms of how widely they traveled and the prestige of the singers with whom they worked. One of their biggest breaks was being invited to perform at the Harvest Moon Ball in 1957 which led to an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 6, 1957. According to Aníbal, “right after that, every big name in the business wanted the Mambo Aces to open the show,” including Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstein, and Sarah Vaughn.1  In addition to touring throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, the Mambo Aces also performed in London with Edmundo Ros and spent two months performing in Portugal where they performed in a television show called Command Performance.

Aníbal Vázquez danced with Joe Centeno for roughly 10 years. Aníbal then continued the Mambo Aces dancing with Mike Vázquez. Aníbal then teamed up with Marilyn Winters (his only female partner) to perform, primarily in the Catskills. Aníbal later revived the Mambo Aces again to perform with conga player Sanson Batalla. In the 1970s, Aníbal worked for Fania Records as a promoter and also performed in many Fania concerts dancing to a song written by Johnny Pacheco. “Coro Miyare” features Aníbal dancing with his nephew and bongocero Roberto Roena, whom Aníbal had taught to dance in the 1950s. The song includes the lyrics, “que baile Roberto con Aníbal, que siga la salsa para arriba.” Roberto Roena features the song in many of concerts of his own band, Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, including a 1994 Concert at Puerto Rico’s Centro de Bellas Artes, captured on film. In the concert, Roberto Roena and his uncle Aníbal Vázquez are dancing side by side in a routine very similar to that performed by the Mambo Aces. Aníbal died of a heart attack in 1999 while dancing in New York to the live music of his nephew. Aníbal Vázquez is considered the godfather of mambo and salsa dancing in Puerto Rico where he is often referred to as “Don Aníbal.”

© Juliet McMains 2012

Television/Film Appearances:

The Ed Sullivan Show, October 6, 1957

The Spirit Moves: A History of Black Social Dance on Film, 1900-1986. Directed by Mura Dehn. Although released in 1987, the film was recorded in the early 1950s. Aníbal performs the first solo. The music is not the same as that to which they were dancing when it was filmed.

Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound: En Vivo Desde Bellas Artes (2003). Performing “Coro Miyare” with Roberto Roena in 1994.

Sources:

Cohen, Martin. “Anibal Vázquez.” Congahead.com.

Roena, Roberto. Interview with Juliet McMains, March 15, 2008, San Juan, PR.

Vázquez, Aníbal. Interview by Henry Medina, July 30, 1993. Transcript in Carp Collection, Bronx Historical Society.

Vázquez, Mike. Interview with Juliet McMains, September 11, 2007, Pembroke Pines, FL.

Winters, Marilyn. Interview with Juliet McMains, March 1, 2008, Hallendale, FL.

Note: Written records are inconsistent in the spelling of his Aníbal's last name. Many sources spell it Vásquez. I believe Vázquez to be the correct spelling because this is how Aníbal signed his own name in a letter to Mike Vázquez (personal collection of Mike Vázquez).


1. Aníbal Vázquez, interview with Henry Medina, July 30, 1993, transcript at the Bronx Historical Society, 23.
 
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Header photos: Mambo Aces (Aníbal Vázquez and Mike Vázquez) and Jackie Danois Website Design: Wren McMains, Additional Credits