"A sado-masochist with a sense of rhythm." – Guillermo Cabrera Infante
La Lupe's act was an exorcism. Her fans gave her the nickname, La Yiyiyi, for her ecstatic cries and wails. On stage, she picked at her face compulsively, pulled her hair and bit herself, clutched her breasts, and tore her clothing. She flung herself back and forth as she sang until her shoes, clothes, and wig were strewn about and her make-up smeared with drool.
In New York, La Lupe's popularity soared when she partnered with Tito Puente. It wasn't La Lupe's violent performances that proved too controversial for Tito Puente. His career enjoyed a second wind due to their partnership. Her raw boleros serve as an obvious bridge from the popular Big Band sound enjoyed by America's middle class style to a barrio style that forged the New York City Salsa scene in the 60s and 70s. But her public devotion to Santería-- which remained steadfast during even her greatest time of wealth and fame-- proved too provocative for Puente. And he feared his association with La Lupe's dark arts might sully his squeaky-clean persona. Divinations of evil spirits and bad omens caused her to behave erratically, even cancelling appearances at the last minute. Puente abruptly ended their partnership by kicking La Lupe off their tour in 1968, replacing her with El Lupo (aka El Yiyiyo), a drag queen impersonator.
Though she continued to record throughout the 70s, she was nevertheless forced into obscurity. Puente famously told their mutual manager: "I'm not working anywhere that that black woman plays." Excessive payments to santeros and battles with drug abuse brought La Lupe to poverty. In 1984, she suffered a severe spinal injury while trying to hang a curtain. She was briefly homeless after an electrical fire destroyed her home. Some years later, she was healed miraculously by an evangelist at a Christian Crusade. She abandoned Santeria and briefly became a Pentecostal minister before dying at the age of 55.