Meet Gladys Palmera, the Woman Who Has Collected 50,000 Latin Music Records

Lead Photo: Photo courtesy of Alejandra Fierro Eleta

When Alejandra Fierro Eleta was 20 years old, she had already been collecting rare Latin music vinyls for two years. She wanted her own radio show to share her love of music with the world, but her conservative father was concerned that her passion for broadcasting would bring shame upon the family name. Unbothered, she changed it. Known since then as Gladys Palmera, her collection now numbers over 50,000 albums. The radio channel she started based on the collection, Radio Gladys Palmera, is broadcast throughout Spain and through the web.

The mass of music she’s accumulated is a collector’s dream. The library itself is exquisitely housed in the Spanish village of San Lorenzo del Escorial, on an estate she inherited from her grandfather. It is lovingly cleaned and organized by Palmera on unending white shelves, some of which swing open with the help of charmingly nautical hand cranks. Such is Palmera’s reputation as connoisseur that record dealers will make the hour drive from Madrid to bring her rare titles. When she dies, the collection is destined to be donated to UC Berkeley.

Some of her personal favorites from the vast array of titles include a very rare recording of James Dean on congo drums, a trio of Dizzy Gillespie 45s released with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo just one year before Pozo was murdered, Lady Soto and Arty Valdez’s A Night At The Trojan, Chapottin y sus Estrellas’ Ritmo en Sepia, and a handful of promo LPs released by a pre-revolution Cubana Airlines.

Palmera says she harbors a special love of divas — “one of my stronger points, ladies first,” as she tells fans in the video below. “Pura sangre en los venos.” Her collection is heavy on salsa and Latin jazz, rare test pressings, and even century-old releases that were put out on Thomas Edison’s label (!)

Palmera credits melodic 1950s summers in Mallorca with her love of music, but truth be told it’s in her blood — her mom’s brother was Carlos Eleta Almaran, who wrote the globally beloved bolero “Historia de un Amor.” The amassing began when she went for an extended visit to see her mom’s family in Panama — the first album she bought was “Metiendo Mano” by Ruben Blades, who would later become the first person interviewed on her show Sabrosura. Palmera also founded La Escuelita del Ritmo, a music school for Panamanian kids in the village of Portobelo.

Palmera first started broadcasting in 1986 through a station she started in Madrid, at a time when there was few options for Latin music on the Spanish radio dial. Three years later, it was beaming out throughout the country. Radio Gladys Palmera got its start in Barcelona, quickly expanding the the Madrid and Valencia markets. You can check the programming online — hosts include Chilean singer-songwriter Camila Moreno and some of Spain’s top music journalists.

[H/T The Vinyl Factory]