By Victoria Cepeda
It was late November 1985 when I first heard Polito Vega, a.k.a. “El Rey de La Radio” and the idilio was instantaneous. Here I was a few minutes away from New York City in a two bedroom apt in Hudson County, New Jersey and far from the east coast of the Dominican Republic, where I was born. At fourteen years old, I was uprooted and taken to “alla afuera” or literally “outside” which is how Dominicans label the U.S. (read: New York City). Hearing Polito’s energetic voice speak in Spanish and play the music that I had grown up with as well as older classics, gave me something to look forward to. Particularly when, as a newly arrived immigrante, I had little to comfort me in this distant Anglo-speaking land.
My dad would blast “El Show de Polito Vega” on Saturday or Sundays. We would dance to the likes of Celia Cruz, LaVoe, El Gran Combo, Willie Colon, Johnny Ventura, Fernando Villalona and Wilfrido Vargas in between sweeping, mopping and cleaning house (smiles). Gosh if you could think of any great Salsa, Mambo, Cha-cha-cha or Merengue classics then Polito’s has definitely played those hits.
Hipolito Vega was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. with the hopes of becoming a singer. By a twist of fate, his voice impressed a local radio producer while Polito filtered calls during a friend’s radio show. The rest is history. It’s said that he paved the way for some of the biggest names in Latino artists in New York City since the late 1950’s. Tito Puente, Ismael Miranda, Gilberto Santa Rosa and the list goes on.
Photo courtesy of jcccsonline.org
On September 30, 2012 major artists, including the late Jeni Rivera, got together for the Megaton de Polito at NY Mets’ Citi Field Stadium in Queens. The crowd was calculated to have reached 45,000 strong. The goal was to commemorate his 50 years in radio and pay tribute to this iconic figure. It was a bittersweet moment for Polito because just in August he had lost his wife Judith Vega.
I missed the concert pero only because my son was being inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, otherwise I would have been there front row imbibing el sabor y herencia musical.
In all honesty, I really just wanted to introduce those that have never heard of Polito to his legacy. He deserves our recognition because, in my view, he is an ambassador to Latino culture in “La Gran Manzana.“
I am thankful for his contribution.