Queens salsa singer touches many hearts with her gift of song

Richmond Hill-based salsa singer Anissa Gathers has transformed Forest Hills’ Ascan Avenue, with exciting outdoor performances at Portofino on Friday and Saturday evenings. (Photo courtesy of Anissa Gathers)

It’s hard to resist that soul-stirring rhythm!

This Hispanic Heritage Month, get to know salsa singer Anissa Gathers, who’s been entertaining Cuban music fans in Queens, New York City and elsewhere for years. She’s touched many hearts with her gift of song during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You may have heard the sultry performer from Richmond Hill, belt those salsa tunes – accompanied by a fantastic Cuban-style band – on a balmy Friday or Saturday evening at the popular Portofino Ristorante, located on the bustling Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills.

“I started working at Portofino since [spring of] last year. During the pandemic, Portofino has supported us musicians through these difficult times,” Gathers saidd. She noted that despite all the challenges creatives have been experiencing, she has kept her focus and “stayed calm, eating healthy, exercising and singing to the world.”

Portofino’s eye-catching outdoor space, where Queens-based singer Anissa Gathers performs her salsa music Friday and Saturday nights, accompanied by a Cuban-style band. (Photo by Tammy Scileppi)

Known for its delicious Italian fare and owner Carmine’s warm, welcoming smile, the restaurant’s eye-catching, plant-filled outdoor area makes you feel like you’re vacationing on some faraway island. And when the party lights come on at dusk, the entire place transforms.

Even as those warm summer breezes give way to autumn’s chill, there’s still time to escape and celebrate life or happy birthdays at one of Queens’ favorite hotspots. And if you hurry, you can still catch Gathers’ outdoor performances — just wear a sweater.

Patrons love the festive ambiance, especially during Latin music nights.

It appears as if the talented performer may be channeling her beloved idol: 1950s Cuban-American icon Celia Cruz, aka the “Queen of Salsa,” who was one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Perhaps one would describe this entire unique experience as reminiscent of the exciting nightlife back in Havana’s heyday, where the only cool place to be was Tropicana, a “pleasure paradise” featuring dazzling shows and showgirls, and where star-studded partygoers included Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth and J.F.K., to name a few.

A native New Yorker, Gathers was raised in Puerto Rico and returned to New York City at age 17. Growing up with a guitarist grandfather who was into Cuban music, the budding young artist would eventually embrace that special rhythm, discovering her singing voice in 2000.

“I was a dancer then and my career as a singer started by coincidence,” Gathers said. “The ballet I belonged to, Meztiso Ballet in New York, needed a vocalist. I was playing around and singing one day, and the musical director heard me and made me the group singer.”

Gathers added that she soon came to realize the similarity between her own voice and her Cuban idol’s voice. She even had the lead role, performing as Cruz in “Celia the Musical” (2007), both in the off-Broadway run and in Miami on tour.

So, it’s no wonder that Queens’ “Celia” has been wowing audiences wherever she performs.

A while back, the artist took part in “Reinas de la Noche”/“Queens of the Night,” a musical featuring performances by Gathers and several other fabulous divas at Thalia Spanish Theater in Sunnyside.

Several years ago, Gathers was the opening artist for Julio Iglesias and Tito Nieves. And she noted that some of her favorite Latin crooners include Marc Anthony, Juan Gabriel and La India, Puerto Rican singer and songwriter of salsa, house music and Latin pop.

On Oct. 3, she’ll be kicking up her heels as one of several Latin performers in a Broadway-style event called “Sol of El Barrio” in New York City’s Theater 555. Produced and directed by two-time Clio award-winning choreographer Maria Torres, this immersive presentation will explore Afro-Latino culture through dance, poetry and spoken word.

Gathers recently appeared at Matiz Latin Cuisine in Forest Hills. She performs every Thursday at Tu Casa in Kew Gardens, which is known by locals for having some of the most delicious Spanish and Peruvian food in the borough.

Photo courtesy of Anissa Gathers

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