Most of the Latin bands were scheduled for the matinee session, many of which were used as relief bands for the big society bands of the time. Latin bands for the most part played at nightclubs such as The Conga, The China Doll, The Park Palace, and The Park Plaza, located in Spanish Harlem. The Palladium needed capital to survive, so it opened its doors to blacks,Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
In 1948, the Palladium gained in stature because of the so-called Big Three, brought in by Federico Pagani. These were:
- Machito, featuring his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá as music arranger and Machito’s sister Gracelia on vocals;
- Tito Puente;
- Tito Rodríguez.
The Big Three grew tremendously in popularity on the strength of their bookings at the Palladium. These bands were turning out mambo hit after mambo hit. Following are a few of the hits that were popular:
- Machito with “Asia Minor” and “Babarabatiri”;
- Puente with “Picadillo” and “Ran Kan Kan”;
- Rodríguez with “Mambo Mona” (an early version of “Mama Güela”) and “Joe Lustig Mambo”.
In those days there were no DJs who filled spots between band sets. The music was non-step. It was a sight to see with the Big Three trying to outdo one another. Machito would play one set, then Puente would step in not missing a beat, and Rodríguez would blend right in, so you couldn’t tell when one dropped off and the other began.
The Palladium was known not only for its music but for the exceptionally high quality and innovation of its dancers, fueled by weekly dance competitions and Pie Contest along with a Female Best Leg Contest. Ability to dance, not class or color, was the social currency inside the club. The Palladium’s top star-performers, Augie and Margo Rodríguez, took the mambo to unimaginable heights. Another popular act featured was the group called The Mambo and Cha-Cha-Aces, with Andy, Mike and Tina.