It’s a big year for Lucie Arnaz: The daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the premiere of “I Love Lucy,” the 100th anniversary of Ball’s birth and a new Library of Congress exhibit of memorabilia from the show. With her brother, Desi Arnaz Jr., she’s marking the occasion with “Babalu!,” a musical tribute to her father at the Library of Congress. As Ricky Ricardo, Desi Arnaz (who was of Cuban descent) helped introduce Latin music and culture to an American audience on TV and with his orchestra. We asked Lucie Arnaz to do some ’splainin’.
Why was the song “Babalu” so important to your father’s legacy?
Because he did it so well and it was sexy and powerful and dramatic. He would bang that conga drum, and it was very exciting. It’s a Santeria song to the god Babalu. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, because he was on national television in the ’50s singing about a god of infectious diseases.
How would you describe your dad’s contribution to American music?
He was a wonderful crossover. He really was the first person to introduce the conga line to the United States, in 1937. He was so smart about the way that he did it because he did some of those [Latin] numbers, but he also took American numbers, like Irving Berlin tunes, and sang them in English but gave them a Latin kick.
Are you sick of getting asked about “I Love Lucy”?
Yes [laughs]. But that doesn’t mean I won’t answer you. I get asked, “What’s your favorite episode?” 25,000 times a year. Truthfully, I don’t have a favorite episode.
Do you notice how many sitcoms still use plots from “I Love Lucy”?
Even going back to “Laverne & Shirley,” I remember my mother going, “They just did our show!” It’s a compliment. They steal from the best.