Janet G. Sanchez is a forceful, dynamic, get-it-done type of person. She has to be. Her position as operations manager at the Bronx’s Lehman Center for the Performing Arts demands it. On any performance night you will see her in action, mingling with concert goers, making sure the will-call line is moving along, checking on vendors in the lobby and making sure all the guests are taken care of. On an evening featuring Latino performers, she goes into mega-drive. Why? Because Sanchez is the heart and soul of Lehman Center’s Latino Series and evenings like these are the culmination of her hard work, persistence and dedication.
In 1991 Sanchez, who was born in New York but raised in San German, Puerto Rico, was living in The Bronx with her husband. Sanchez would pass by Lehman, which is part of the City University of New York, and wish that she could work on the campus. She loved looking at the College and the beautiful grounds and had a strong feeling that good things were happening there, and she wanted to be part of it. One day at the local laundromat, she and another customer got into a conversation and Sanchez mentioned her desire to work at Lehman. It turned out that she was speaking to none other than Marie Garrighty, who worked at the human resources office at Lehman! She asked Sanchez if she was truly interested and what her skills were. When Sanchez informed her that she was a graduate of a secretarial school, she suggested that Sanchez apply for a part time position in the Media Relations department which needed to be filled. That is where she worked until 1996 when a spot opened up at the concert hall. She applied for the position of administrative secretary there and was hired.
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In due time, Sanchez was promoted to operations manager, the post she holds today. When she started in her position, there weren’t many Latin concerts being booked, but Sanchez knew there was a need that the center was not filling. She spoke to Lehman Executive Director Eva Bornstein, who listened to Sanchez, heard what she was saying, and allowed her to spread her wings.
Three years ago, Sanchez produced her first Latin production, the “Jibaro Christmas Show.” “Jibaro” refers to the Puerto Rican peasants and their home-grown music. The show was a hit. Puerto Ricans from all over the tri-state area came in droves to listen to “their” music and a star producer was born! The “Jibaro” show is now produced every year. Prior to his passing in 2012, the “King of the Cuatro,” legendary Puerto Rican musician Yomo Toro was an integral part of the annual concert, and his legacy now continues with other cuatro musicians keeping the tradition alive. Sanchez has expanded from the Jibaro into a full-blown Latin concert series, and this season the Center will welcome artists such as Victor Manuelle and Jose Feliciano, among many others.
For her work with Latino artists, Sanchez was honored in 2010 by the New York Salsa Congress. According to John “Choco” Knight, Executive Director of the Congress, every year they pick out a pioneer in the Salsa community who has done his or her part in promoting Salsa or Latin music. As evidence of that, he mentions all the great concerts that Lehman Center for the Performing Arts has put on, thanks to Sanchez. Last year alone, Lehman showcased the talents of Los Romeros, the acclaimed guitar quartet from Spain, Michel Camilo, the Grammy-award winning pianist from the Dominican Republic, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, during its first-ever historic U.S. tour.
Sanchez is always looking for new and exciting performers. This past June, Lehman hosted the world-renowned Salsero, Willy Colon with his orchestra, and it was a standing room only show. This August she has booked the great Salsa artist Ismael Rivera. His show, “A Life of Salsa – 45 Years of History” will feature two special guests, Andy Montanez and Paquito Guzman. Sanchez expects another sold out concert.
Because of her open and friendly personality, all the artists, managers, and most anyone connected with the performances visits with Sanchez when they arrive at Lehman. The photo gallery behind her desk will give you a clue—she has a picture with just about everyone who has appeared at Lehman during her tenure. Sanchez obviously enjoys her work. “I love everything about my job; it’s a new experience for me every day,” she says. Salsa, this style of music that binds Puerto Ricans, is special and far reaching. What Sanchez always says may be true: “Sin Salsa no hay paraiso.” Go to the next Latin concert at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts and you will understand what she means.