Join the Peace Corps…and become an artist’s muse? That is exactly what happened when Cathie Maclin Boyles arrived in Colombia. Boyles served as a nurse between 1974 and 1979; however, her first year must have been one of the most memorable. Boyles recounts one evening at her village’s festival:
“During my first year of service I worked in a very small town on the Mojana River in the Department of Sucre. Once a year the town celebrated its patron saint, Santa Catalina, with a town festival. The year I was there the town succeeded in obtaining Alfredo Gutierrez and his band to perform at the evening celebration.
Alfredo Gutierrez is a Colombian singer famous for his vallenato. Vallenato is a form of folk music, which originated in Colombia on the Caribbean coast and Alfredo Gutierrez is the Johnny Cash of the vallenato. He is still well known and admired today.
As his band was playing during the evening fiesta, Alfredo Gutierrez spotted me, the only Gringa (slang for American woman) in the crowd and asked to dance with me. We danced numerous times during his breaks and he told me that he was going to compose a song for me. He had way too much to drink, but later in the evening he belted out his early rendition of La Norteamericana. Much to my and everyone in the town’s surprise he polished the song and put it on his next album. For months the song played on the radio and I became quite the celebrity in the whole area!”
Boyles finished her first two years of service in Sincelejo, where she worked with the Ministry of Health to teach rural health programs, train local midwives, and supervise child vaccinations. After extending her service for two additional years, she became a nursing supervisor in a small regional hospital outside Bogota.
Boyles donated her original album by Gutierrez to the Peace Corps Community Archive in 2019.
Listen to Gutierrez serenade Boyles in “La Norteamericana”: