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Cuban musicians get U.S. encore

HAVANA, Cuba – Cuban diva Omara Portuondo will heat up the stage at the 10th Annual Latin Grammy Awards during a rare U.S. appearance this Thursday.

Dubbed the queen of Cuban vocals, Portuondo will be presenting an award during the televised show and her latest CD, "Gracias," has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Tropical Album category.  

VIDEO: Cuban musicians get U.S. encore

Her appearance at the Las Vegas awards show demonstrates the slow loosening of restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Cuba

Portuondo's visit is her first to the United States in five years. Back in 2004, she had to cancel a tour after the Bush administration cracked down on cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba. Under that policy, thousands of Cuban artists and musicians were denied visas to perform in the U.S.

That now seems to be changing. After the Obama administration loosened some travel restrictions for Cuban Americans this past spring, U.S. music promoters quietly began applying for permission to bring Cuban artists stateside.  

During the first 10 months of this year, the State Department issued 5,500 more visas for Cubans to visit the United States than it did during the same period in 2008.  

Now Portuondo's sultry voice, which has entertained audiences in Cuba for over six decades, has another chance to win over American audiences.  Since first performing at Havana's famous Tropicana cabaret back in the 1950s with greats like Nat King Cole, she has accompanied some of the island's most beloved bands from Cuarteto d'Aida and Orquesta Aragon to the Buena Vista Social Club, which introduced her to international audiences.

In addition to Omara, famed conductor Zenaida Romeu is appearing in North Dakota, troubadour Pablo Milanes is in Puerto Rico and band Septeto Nacional is bringing its Cuban rumba to the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. Watch the video of the performers in Cuba and look out for their performances in a town near you.