Cuban-born vocalist and percussionist Carlos Oliva always seemed to have an eye out for “Lulu” whenever he would take the stage in Miami.
Oliva, founder of Los Sobrinos del Juez, a Cuban music fusion group, met Lourdes Castroverde in the 1970s when she worked in reservations and customer service for Delta Airlines.
To Oliva, she’d always be “Lulu” and she had a golden voice.
“He’d say, ‘Is Lulu in the audience? Come sing with me!’ So she’d do the bongos and play guitar and sing,” Castroverde’s daughter, Berdie Archer, said of her mother, who died at 88 on July 27 in Memphis, where she had moved in her later years to be near her son, Armando.
“She was a fantastic person, full of energy and music all the time. I always enjoyed seeing her in the audience while performing and spending time with her offstage,” Oliva said in an email to the Miami Herald.
Castroverde, who was born in Havana and left in 1955 for Miami, also befriended the late Latin jazz master percussionist Ray Barretto one day in the ’70s while he was strolling through Customs. Delta and Northwest airlines shared space in the Atlanta terminal prior to their 2008 merger and, as a customer service rep in a pre-9/11 world, Castroverde had some leeway in helping passengers find a seat on the next available flight.
She approached Barretto, found him a seat, and slipped him her phone number.
“She was passionate about music and jazz and Ray called her and she invited his band over to her house in North Miami, where she lived at the time, for barbecue and they had little jam sessions,” Archer said.
“Every once in a while she would fly to New York to see Ray play and Ray would say, ‘A dear friend of mine is here and she’s going to come up and help me with a piece.’ And she’d go up and sing with him.”
Castroverde discovered her voice decades earlier in Cuba. Her father was an attorney and her grandfather was an attorney general on the island. Music was always on in the house and her dad played guitar. The family, which included three daughters, sang at the old Havana Yacht Club at events and Castroverde envisioned a career in music.
“She sang and played guitar and piano by ear and she had a beautiful voice,” her daughter said. After her mother retired from Delta in the late ’80s, she took bongo lessons.
Castroverde, whose first home in Miami was a duplex in the Little Havana neighborhood of Southwest Seventh and 12th Avenue, took notice of a younger pop star who similarly had lived in the neighborhood after leaving Cuba when Castro took power. Castroverde, too, had dreamed of a career on big stages, singing songs of the homeland and American pop hits much like Gloria Estefan found fame singing in the 1980s.
“She said I should have been Gloria Estefan but her father didn’t allow it back then. Cuban men could be so possessive. But she took advantage any time she could,” Archer said.
Castroverde’s other passion was swimming, another byproduct of the life left behind at the Havana Yacht Club. When she worked for Delta she was a member of the company’s Atlanta-based swim team. In Miami, she registered with USA Masters and was a fixture at swim meets in Miami-Dade, Broward and Boca Raton pools in the 1980s. She continued competing until 2008.
Her daughter estimates her mother racked up more than 50 trophies and 34 medals at Masters meets in events like the 100-yard butterfly and freestyle. She’d win them the old-fashioned way: through hard training.
“She swam every day. Even in the lake when she lived in Fontainebleau Park. She used to swim in that lake with the alligator. She wasn’t afraid. She’d say, ‘They think I’m a part of them.’ She found peace and solace in it, like yoga, she’d say, but better, because it was in the water.”
In addition to her daughter and son, Castroverde is survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Hugh Catholic Church, 3460 Royal Rd., Coconut Grove.