The Palladium Ballroom was a second-floor dancehall on 53rd Street and Broadway in
New York Citywhich became famous for its excellent Latin music. At the end of World War IIpeople began moving from Puerto Ricoto New York Cityin large numbers (NYC's Puerto Rican population was about 100,000 in 1940 and 600,000 in 1960) and the popularity of swing, foxtrot, big band, etc was waning.
Opening of Palladium
When the Palladium opened, it was established as a dance studio and dance hall for
Anglos only and did not maintain the level of funding needed to operate it.
Most of the Latin bands were scheduled for the matinee session, many of which were used as relief bands for the big society bands of the time. Latin bands for the most part played at nightclubs such as: The Conga, The China Doll, The Park Place, and The Park Plaza, located in Spanish Harlem.
The Palladium needed capital to survive, so it opened its doors to blacks, Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
"Palladium" starts featuring Latin music
In 1948, music promoter Federico Pagani approached Palladium owner Max Hyman about booking Latin music there. "Palladium" was the first to start a Latin matinee in a downtown dance hall on a Sunday. The first booking, on a Sunday afternoon, was reportedly a huge success, quickly prompting the club to fill its schedule with Latin music:
*The band of Arsenio Rodriguez, whose band members included Arsenio's bassist Alfonso "El Panameno" Joseph. One of the most popular bands to perform at the Palladium.
*Machito (born Frank Grillo) "(suggested listening: Dance Date with Machito and His Afro-Cubans)", already an established New York act, played there frequently.
*The orchestra of singer/bandleader Tito Rodriguez (born Pablo) (listen to: Tito Rodriguez Live at the Palladium)
Beny Moréand his orchestra,
Miguelito Valdés(the latter sometimes called "Mr. Babalu" and known for his friendly rivalry with Desi Arnaz).
*Cortijo and Ismael Rivera,
New York Latin clubs
Very soon, Latino New Yorkers could be very proud of a highly visible night spot of their own in the heart of midtown, in addition to clubs such as
*El Club Caborrojeño far north on Broadway at 145th Street,
*the Broadway Casino in Washington Heights,
*El Cubanacán (114th and Lenox),
*the Park Palace and Park Plaza (upstairs and downstairs in the same catering hall on 110th Street and
*Fifth Avenue), and
*Gloria Palace on 86th Street and
*Third Avenue, as well as
*Bronx night spots the Tropicana (on either Westchester Avenue or Intervale Avenue and 163rd Street),
*the Tropicola (Homewood and Southern),
*Hunt's Point Palace (Southern and 163rd Street),
*La Campana (149th Street and Third Avenue), and
*the Tropicoro (on Longwood Avenue).
The Big Three
In 1950, the Palladium gained in stature because of the Big Three:
*Machito.Big Tree grew tremendously in popularity on the strength of their bookings at the Palladium.
The Big Three were turning out mambo hit after mambo hit. These were a few of the hits that were popular:
*Puente with "Picadillo" and "Ran Kan Kan,"
*Rodriguez with "Mambo Mona (Mama Guela)" and "Joe Lustig Mambo";
*Machito with "Asia Minor" and "Babarabatiri."
In those days there were no DJs who filled spots between band sets. The music was relentless. It was a sight to be seen with the Big Three trying to outdo one another. Machito would play one set, then Puente would step in not missing a beat, and Rodriguez would blend right in so you couldn't tell when one dropped off and the other began.
The year 1950, started the mambo craze that eventually spread across the United States began at the "Palladium". At the height of its popularity, the "Palladium" attracted
Hollywoodand Broadway stars, especially on Wednesday nights, which included a free dance lesson. Dance instructors such as "Killer Joe" Piro - who briefly served as master of ceremonies the "Palladium" - would offer mass dance lessons for the huge crowds. Club-goers of the era report seeing Marlon Brando, George Hamiltonand others there.
The popularity of Perez Prado's "
Mambo No. 5" (1952) was taking everyone by storm.
Popular dances and dancers at the "Palladium"
The "Palladium" was known not only for its music but for the exceptionally high quality and innovation of its dancers, fueled by weekly dance competitions. Ability to dance, not class or color, was the social currency inside the club. "Palladium" top star-performers,
Augie & Margo Rodriguez, took the Mambo to unimaginable heights.
The Palladium also became a showcase for many new dance rhythms such as the cha-cha, the merengue and the pachanga. They became just as popular with the masses as the mambo.
Wednesday was Showcase Night. They held different contests, from pie-eating to skirt-raising showdowns and Mambo dancing eliminations.
Jazz musicians celebrities and latin bands
The Palladium became the place to be seen at. Different jazz musicians and celebrities would sit in and play with the Latin bands:
*Marlon Brando and
*Sammy Davis Jr.
The area was a musician's paradise, with the Palladium on West 53rd Street and Broadway, and the jazz clubs on West 52nd Street: Birdland, The Onyx and CuBop City. You never knew what nuances would be occurring on any given night or who was going to show.
Mambo losing popularity
By the early 1960s, tastes had shifted somewhat and it was clear a new sound was on the horizon. Suggested listening:
*"Mongo Santamaria" 's 1963 cover of
Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man", as well as,
*"Joe Cuba" 's 1966 "El Pito", featuring a riff from "Dizzy Gillespie", the catchy line, "never go back to Georgia".
"The Palladium" closed its doors in the spring of 1966 (two dates reported are April 15 and May 1 of that year). Dancers' and music fans' enthusiasm for the music was not diminished; many mention
*El Corso (near Gloria Palace on 86th Street and Third Avenue) and
*the Cheetah (52nd Street and Eighth Avenue)as the places "the scene" went next.
Palladium in "Mambo Kings" movie
The dance floor and bandstand of the Palladium was lovingly recreated in the feature film
Mambo Kings, starring Armand Assanteand Antonio Banderas, in which Tito Puente played himself and Desi Arnaz Jr. played Desi Arnaz Sr. The movie's band, the Mambo Kings Band, also featured Ralph Irizarry, Machito's son Mario Grillo, and others.
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