The Mamboniks

A repository for articles and artifacts regarding the intriguing history of Jews in Latin music.

THE MAMBONIKS began in 2001 as research for a book that remains unpublished. I hope that sharing my interviews and materials will help broaden the understanding of this unique moment in Jewish cultural history.

All material copyright Mark Schwartz, 2006


Jewish Harlem Pt. 1

Before there was Spanish Harlem, there was Jewish Harlem.

The eastern edge of Manhattan, from Fifth Avenue to the East River between 96th St. and 142nd St., is today New York City’s Latin heart, “El Barrio” to over 50,000 residents of Puerto Rican and other Latino ancestry. Walking around these streets, where salsa music streams from tenement windows, it’s hard to imagine that this was once the second largest Jewish community in America. But scratch the surface of today’s Barrio, and another ghetto emerges. It’s hard to miss, for instance, Mt. Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852 as Jews’ Hospital, on 100th Street across from Central Park. But only city records recall that the immense Baptist Temple on West 116th Street, was once the home of Ohab Zedek, one of the largest Jewish congregations in New York at the turn of the century. Between the two, at the foot of West 110th St., stands La Hermosa Church, formerly the Jewish-owned Park Palace catering hall, one of the hottest Latin dance halls from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. Even the Grace Aguilar branch of the New York Public library on 110th St. between Lexington and Third Avenues, which would seem to be a proud Puerto Rican institution, is named for the English Jewish poet and novelist of Spanish extraction.

In Harlem, Jews and Latinos struck up a musical relationship. Jewish entrepreneurs sold and recorded Latin music to Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Spanish speakers. They rented out dance halls and social clubs to Puerto Rican revelers, encouraging the local music scene. They were among the first devotees of a tropical music that grew right in their backyards, that wasn’t just the sombrero-topped Hollywood facsimile of Latin rhythm. Harlem’s Jewish businessmen in the ‘30s – the owners of the Park Plaza, the proprietor of Seeco Records, Sidney Seigel – saw the neighborhood change into a thriving Caribbean community.



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