We see evidence of the presence in Cuba of the Casa de Fonogramas EDISON since 1893, when print journalism of the time discovers its technicians of Havana dedicated to the recording of Cuban music art.
It is very likely that these primitive registers in metal cylinders covered with wax would really record guaracha players and singers of the island. Having no signs of else-proving evidence, we consider soprano Rosalía Díaz de Herrera (1864-1948) known in the Cuban music industry framework as Chalia Herrera, the first entry in the Cuban phonograph registry, when she recorded in 1897 some 2 minute-long cylinders for the Bettini Unnumbered label and in 1898 for "Tú", of maestro Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes. In 1997, the 1st Centenary of Cuban Phonography was commemorated.
The history of Cuban music industry sees the presence of American phonogram labels like Edison Record, Zon-O-Phone, Victor Talking Machine Co. and the Columbia Phonograph Co. Also the label Humara y Lastra plays an important role in this story.
Starting from 1910, the men of Humara searched for valid artistic talents to perform recording sessions for the Victor. We owe to Humara the credit for discovering some great Cuban artists who then became stars of the 78 rpm phonograph record, such as Manuel Corona, Eusebio Delfin Bienvenido Julián Gutiérrez, and the most-famous Trio Matamoros with their well-known Son "El que siembra on maíz"; and then Antonio Machín, Ernesto Lecuona, Dámaso Pérez Prado, Benny Moré, Orlando "Cascarita" War and the Orquesta Aragón.
Between 1903 and 1906 other phonographic labels come to Cuba with the intention of including in their sales catalog the Cuban ensembles of Enrique Peña, Pablo Valenzuela and Felipe P. Valdés, as well as the Banda Municipal de La Habana; and shortly after, the Félix González orchestra and singers Floro Zorrilla, Miguel Zaballa, Juan Cruz, Adolfo Colombo, Regino Lopez, Consuelo Novoa and Hortensia Valerón. Some of them had already travelled to the United States to sign recording contracts.
Many artists maintained their reputation in the phonographic labels with the advent of new technologies, while others were not so lucky, remaining tied to a precise period in Cuban phonography history. In 1908 the Compañía Cubana de Fonógrafos, SA, was founded, publishing a summary catalog which listed the recordings made in Havana by each label.
The Columbia Phonograph Co. permanently settled in Cuba with its representative agency, led by Cuban composer Jorge Anckerman, who excelled in the exquisite selection of musical talents for Columbia. Ten records made in 1913 by the Quintet Trovadores Orientales de José "Pepe" Sánchez deserve special attention, as well as talented duets recorded by Luz Gil and Hortensia Valerón, both artists of the Alhambra Theatre, who by then had already mastered the cancion, the bolero and danzon, with the arrangements and orchestral works of Manuel Mauri and Alberto Villalon.
Columbia was represented in Cuba by the trademark Hermanos Giralt.
In 1925, with the development of electrical recordings and the improvement of sound fidelity, Sexteto Habanero recorded in Havana the Son "A la loma de Belén", "Caballero silencio" and "a meneito suave".
On September 2, 1926 Sexteto Habanero is in New York City for the recording of a group of Son songs, including "Tres lindas cubanas". From that moment on, thanks to the disc, the Son conquers the audience’s hearts thus replacing other Cuban rhythms and competing head to head with the interpretations of the other 78 rpm record stars such as Rita Montaner, Mariano Meléndez, Fernando Collazo, María Luisa Morales and Antonio Machín.
In 1935, Cuban businessman Miguel Gabriel, owner of the radio station CMQ, bought from Victor some disused recording devices. His purpose is to use them to record artists independently, a crucial fact in the Cuban music recording framework, considering the fact that the entire business was about to undergo a strong monopolistic stage.
For Cuba, the possibility of recording in an independent way broadened the choice of artists and, in 1943, Cuban engineer Ramón Sabat founded the Cuban Plastic and Record Co., for the manufacturing and printing of discs. In 1944, he created the Pan-Art record label, the first 100% truly Cuban label.
The Pan-Art (later Panart) immediately became a strong competitor for the powerful RCA Victor, as many Cuban artists preferred to record with the label of their own country, also because their records could reach the store faster.
In 1949, Columbia Record adopts the 33 rpm disc and RCA Victor the 45 rpm. In the early days of 1950, the Panart starts selling its first long-playing records (LP) printed in Cuba.
The success of Panart opens new perspectives for businessmen and other Cuban investors; 1954 sees the birth of Puchito, the label owned by Jesús Goris, and Gema, owned by the Alvarez Guedes brothers, is born in 1957; and then: Kubaney, Maype, Modiner, Velvet, Rosell Record and Discuba. Along with them, news stars of Cuban music were born: Rolando Laserie, Celeste Mendosa, Bertha Dupuy, "Tata" Ramos, Fernando Álvarez, "Rolo" Martinez, Blanca Rosa Gil, "Ñico" Membiela and Orlando Contreras; at the same time we see the reaffirmation of those former Cuban disc superstars who had reached the pinnacle of success in the mid 40s, like Celia Cruz, Bienvenido Granda and René Cabell.
On May 29, 1961, during the process of enterprise nationalization started by the Revolutionary Government, the Cuban Plastic and Record Corporation passed under the management of the National Press of Cuba and soon after the labels Areito and Siboney merged under the Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM), which developed a policy of music recording with strong cultural emphasis.
At present times, the Cuban record industry has gone global with the natural assimilation of the Compact Disc (CD) which inexorably supplanted the vinyl disc.
For three decades EGREM held the absolute responsibility to carry out and spread the Cuban phonogram, improving its productions with successful artists and groups and promoting the new Cuban music on the international market, with all the genres and styles of the country, by mixing traditional repertoires, personalities and groups with those belonging to a new set of values: Carlos Puebla, Barbarito Diez, Tito Gómez, Celeste Mendosa, Los Papines, Juan Formell y Los Van Van, Teresita Fernández, Pablo Milanes, Silvio Rodriguez, Amadeo Roldán, Alejandro García Catarla, Harold Gramatges, Carlos Fariñas, Juan Blanco, Leo Brouwer, Frank Fernández, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, the Coro Nacional de Cuba ... among many others.
Nowadays, new record labels populate the landscape of Cuban phonogram: ARTex, the country's first company to market the compact disc, with its record label BIS Music, Tribute, Meneo and Sésamo; Producciones Abdala with the label Unicornio; RTV Comercial and its label Cuba Es Música, promoting through media recordings the valuable archives of Cuban Radio and TV, and finally the Producciones Colibri of the Instituto Cubano de la Música, with its labels In Situ, Cinquillo and Roldán.