The "Sultan of Salsa" Tito Puente

Ernest Anthony Puente, Jr.

Tito Puente is probably the most beloved symbol of Latin jazz. Much more than that, Tito is widely considered to be the godfather of Latin jazz and salsa, he devoted more than six decades of his life to performing Latin music and earning a reputation as a masterful percussionist. Puente managed to keep his music remarkably fresh over the decades. He combined a mastery over every rhythmic nuance with old-fashioned showmanship; just watching his eyes bug out when he taking one of his dynamic solos, was concidered one of the great treats for Latin jazz fans. His appeal continues to carry across all ages and ethnic groups. With a little help, no doubt by Santana's best-selling cover versions of "Oye Como Va" and "Para Los Rumberos" in 1970-1971. Not to mention the cameo appearances Tito had done on TV shows, such as The Cosby Show, and of course the movies like The Mambo Kings. His brand of classic salsa radiates a joyous, got to dance party atmosphere.

Ernest Anthony "Tito" Puente was born April 20,1923 in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City. His parents were emigrants from Puerto Rico. Within a few years, before Tito's birth; his father worked as a foreman for a razor blade factory.

His mother started his piano lessons when he was 6 years old and a little later added dance lessons. It was Tito's dream to dance professionally. Unfortunately, Puente had a bicycle accident as a child, seriously injuring his leg and forever ending his dreams of dancing his way to the top. Although he was trained in piano, Gene Krupa was his hero, and Puente started studying percussion when he was 10. Soon Puente was playing with local Latin bands at neighborhood gatherings, society parties, and New York City hotels. Puente first performed as a young boy with a local band called Los Happy Boys, at New York City's Park Place Hotel. By the age of 13, he was considered a child prodigy by his family, neighbors, and fellow bandmembers. At the age of 15, he had dropped out of school and took a seasonal job with a Miami Beach band where he learned and performed various Latin dance rhythms. Upon returning to Manhattan in 1939; Tito started working with José Curbelo, who is concidered to be the first Mambo king.

Puente was drafted into the Navy in 1942 at the age of 19 to fight in World War II, which became a three-year reprieve from music. Puente befriended bandleader Charlie Spivak while in the Navy, and through Spivak, Puente became interested in big band composition. When Puente returned from the Navy after serving in nine battles, he received a Presidential Commendation and completed his formal musical education at the prestigous Juilliard School of Music, studying conducting, orchestration, and musical theory under the G.I. bill. He completed his studies in 1947, at the age of 24.

During this time Tito suffered personal loss with the passing of his sister.

While at Juilliard, and for a year after, Puente played with Fernando Alvarez and his Copacabana Group, as well as Jose Curbelo and Pupi Campo. When Puente was 25 in 1948, he formed his own group called the Piccadilly Boys, which soon became known as the Tito Puente Orchestra. He recorded his first hit, "Abaniquito," on the Tico Records label a year later. Later in 1949, he signed with RCA Victor records and recorded the single "Ran Kan Kan." Helping to fuel the mambo craze that gave him the unofficial, and ultimately lifelong title, as the "King of the Mambo," or "El Rey." Puente also helped popularize the cha-cha during the 1950s, and he was the only non-Cuban who was invited to a government-sponsored "50 Years of Cuban Music" celebration in Cuba in 1952.

Puente began creating many hits in the 1950s while riding the wave of the mambo's popularity, and recorded dance favorites such as "Barbarabatiri," "El Rey del Timbai," " Mambo la Roca," and "Mambo Gallego." RCA released Cuban Carnival, Puente Goes Jazz, Dance Mania, and Top Percussion, four of Puente's most popular albums, between 1956 and 1960.

He remained flexible and open to experimentation by collaborating with others and fusing various musical styles such as mambo, jazz, salsa, and the 1940s big band sound. Puente was the shining star in the Latin-jazz crossover movement, in music at the time. In 1963 on Tico Records, Puente released "Oye Como Va," which was an outstanding success and is now considered a classic. Four years later in 1967 Puente performed a program of his compositions at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.

Puente's music was not even categorized as salsa until the 1970s, as it contained elements, and influences of big band composition and jazz as well. When Puente's classic hit "Oye Como Va" was covered by Carlos Santana in the early 1970s, a new generation was introduced to Puente's music. Santana also covered Puente's "Para Los Rumberos," which Puente recorded in 1956. Puente and Santana eventually met in 1977 and performed together in New York City's Roseland Ballroom in front of screaming crowds.

In 1979 Puente toured Japan and Russia with his group and discovered a new audiences. As well as, the fact that he had reached worldwide popularity. After returning from Japan, Tito and his orchestra played for U.S. President Jimmy Carter as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Puente was awarded the first of four Grammy Awards in 1979 for A Tribute To Benny More. He also received Grammy awards for On Broadway in 1983, Mambo Diablo in 1985, and Goza Mi Timbal in 1989. In the course of his long career, Puente received eight Grammy Award nominations, more than any other musician in the Latin music field before 1994.

Puente's talent was raised to an international audience in the mid-1980s, and he spent time in the early 1990s performing for audiences overseas. In 1991 Puente appeared in the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which inspired, yet another new generation's interest in his music.

In 1991, at the age of 68, Puente released his 100th album, titled El Numero Cien, distributed by Sony for RMM Records. Puente released Master Timbalero with his Golden Latin-Jazz Allstars that was comprised mainly of other band leaders. They covered classics such as "The Peanut Vendor" and "Nostalgia in Times Square," as well as the album In Session with a separate ensemble of musicians called the Latin-Jazz Allstars; which was his regular touring group. Puente was awarded ASCAP's most prestigious honor--the Founders Award--in July of 1994. Billboard Magazine's John Lannert wrote, "As Puente stepped up to the microphone, a segment of the audience broke into an impromptu rendition of the Puente anthem 'Oye Como Va.'"

In February of 2000, Puente won a Grammy award for best traditional tropical Latin performance for Mambo Birdland. Ernst Anthony "Tito" Puente, Jr. died on June 1, 2000 at New York University Medical Center in New York, New York. Puente had been recently treated for a heart problem. He was 77. Tito was so adored by his fans, many people waited in line for days to say good-bye to the popular bandleader.

On February 21, 2001, Puente was posthumously awarded a Grammy award for best salsa album for Masterpiece/Obra Maestra, which he recorded with Eddie Palmieri.

During a career that spanned more than five decades, Tito Puente became a musical legend in Latin music and jazz circles. He made more than 100 albums and created more than 200 compositions. Puente received numerous awards for his work, including five Grammy Awards. Sometimes called the "King of Latin Jazz" or simply "El Rey"—The King—he made an indelible mark on the popular culture. The writer Oscar Hijuelos made him a character in his 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, and Puente appeared as himself in the 1992 film adaptation. He also guest starred on numerous television shows, such as The Simpsons. Most of all he was loved by many adoring fans throughout the world.

 

Tito Puente -El Cumbanchero

Accomplishments of Tito Puente

He won five Grammy awards in 1979 for the "Tito Puente Homenaje a Beny" Album. This album was Puente’s tribute to Beny More, the Cuban singer.

He also received Grammy awards in 1983 (On Broadway), 1985 (Mambo Diablo), 1990 (Gosa Mi Timbal) and in 2000 (Mambo Birdland) just before his death.

His musical output was prodigious. He has to his credit, over 2002 arrangements, composed more than 450 songs and recorded 120 albums. He had performed in more than 10,000 live performances. For Tito Puente music poured out, in his every breath.

Puente participated in the film ‘The Mambo Kings’ made in 1992. The same year he was honored on the Hollywood Walk of fame with a star.

His album “Dancemania" was chosen by The New York Times as one among the 25 most influential albums of this century. He also appeared on "The David Letterman Show.

Not only was he a genius but also a humanitarian. Puente started the Tito Puente Scholarship Fund to assist young artists with musical talent.

During the presidency of Sen. Roberto Rexach Benítez, Tito Puente received the unique honor of not only having a special session of the Senate of Puerto Rico dedicated to him, but being allowed to perform in his unique style on the floor of the Senate while it was in session.

On September 10, 2007, a United States Post Office in Harlem was named after him at a ceremony presided by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. José Serrano (D-NY).

An amphitheatre was named in his honor at Luis Muñoz Marín Park, next to the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Goodwill Ambassador of Latin American Music

Awarded an honorary degree at Columbia University in 1999

 

Tito Puente -Ran Kan Kan/ Oye Como Va

Discography: Tito Puente

Main Releases:

 
 
 
  • The Complete 78s Vol. II 
    2008 
  • Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival, 1977 
    2008 
  • Algo Especial Para Recordar 
    2008 
  • ... the Early Years 
    2007 
  • Tito Puente & His Concert Orchestra 
    2006 
  • The King 
    2006 
  • Homenaje A Beny 
    2006 
  • Ce' Magnifique 
    2006 
  • Salsa Légende - Best Of Tito Puente - vol.2 
    2006 
  • Salsa Légende - Best Of Tito Puente 
    2006 
  • Para los Rumberos 
    2006 
  • Puente in Percussion 
    2006 
  • At The Beginning! 
    2006 
  • Cha Cha Cha's for Lovers 
    2006 
  • Tito Puente Con Bobby Capo 
    2006 
  • Latin Cool Classics: Tito Puente 
    2006 
  • Eras/w Manny Roman 
    2006 
  • Best Of/20th Century 
    2005 
  • The Essential Tito Puente 
    2005 
  • A Rough Guide to Tito Puente 
    2005 
  • Mambo Mambo 
    2005 
  • Lo Esencial Tito Puente 
    2005 
  • Yambeque: The Progressive Side Of Tito Puente... 
    2004 
  • Exiots Eternos 
    2004 
  • King of Timbales 
    2004 
  • Instant Party: Just Add Tito Puente 
    2004 
  • Platinum & Gold Collection 
    2004 
  • Party At Puente's Place 
    2004 
  • Coleccion Diamante 
    2003 
  • Fiesta 
    2003 
  • Rocked 'N' Loaded 
    2002 
  • Heat Seekers, Vol. 1 
    2002 
  • Christian Termination 
    2002 
  • Caravan Mambo 
    2002 
  • Slow Charm 
    2002 
  • Tito Puente y Celia Cruz 
    2002 
  • King Of Kings: The Very Best Of Tito Puente 
    2002 
  • Blue Hawaii: Island Magic 
    2002 
  • Live At The Playboy Jazz Festival 
    2002 
  • Carnaval de Exitos 
    2002 
  • Dr. Feelgood 
    2002 
  • Soho: Live at Ronnie Scott's 
    2002 
  • Puente Caliente! 
    2001 
  • Cocktail Hour 
    2001 
  • Mambo King Meets the Queen of Salsa 
    2000 
  • The Complete RCA Recordings Vol. 1 
    2000 
  • The Best of the Concord Years 
    2000 
  • Corridos Pa'La Raza 
    2000 
  • Dos Idolos Su Musica 
    2000 
  • Greatest Doo Wop Album of All Times 
    2000 
  • Latino Exotica 
    2000 
  • Latin Abstract 
    2000 
  • Percussion's King 
    2000 
  • Party With Puente! 
    2000 
  • Masterpiece/Obra Maestra 
    2000 
  • Tito Puente Y Su Orquesta Mambo 
    2000 
  • Music Inspired by: Burn the Floor 
    2000 
  • Oye Como Va [CD Single] 
    2000 
  • Disco 2000 
    2000 
  • Masterpiece: Obra Maestra 
    2000 
  • Hoy Y Ayer 
    1999 
  • Mambo Birdland 
    1999 
  • Lo Mejor De Lo Mejor 
    1999 
  • One on the Wall Is 
    1999 
  • Hot Curly Weenie 
    1999 
  • Enter Tinnitus 
    1999 
  • Coleccion Original 
    1999 
  • Golden Latin Jazz All Stars In Session 
    1999 
  • Latin Rhythm [#2] 
    1999 
  • Latin Flight 
    1999 
  • Latin Rhythm [#1] 
    1999 
  • The Very Best of Tito Puente 
    1998 
  • Dancemania '99 - Live At Birdland 
    1998 
  • The Concord Jazz Heritage Series 
    1998 
  • Dancemania 98: Live At Birdland 
    1998 
  • 50 Years Of Swing 
    1997 
  • Greatest Hits 
    1997 
  • Jazz Latino, Vol. 4 
    1997 
  • El Rey Del Timbal: The Best Of Tito Puente 
    1997 
  • Special Delivery 
    1996 
  • Jazzin' 
    1996 
  • Cha Cha Ch?Live at Grossinger's 
    1996 
  • The Very Best Of Tito Puente & Vicentico Valdes 
    1996 
  • Guarachando 
    1996 
  • Up Close & Personal 
    1996 
  • Oye Como Va: The Dance Collection 
    1996 
  • Yambeque: The Progressive Side of Tito Puente 
    1995 
  • The Complete RCA Victor Revolving Bandstand Sessions 
    1995 
  • Tito's Idea 
    1995 
  • Mambo Beat... The Progressive Side Of Tito... 
    1994 
  • 3 Grandes Orquestas E Interpretes De La Musica Afro-Cubana, Vol. 3 
    1994 
  • Cubarama: Let's Cha Cha 
    1994 
  • Master Timbalero 
    1994 
  • The Best of the Sixties 
    1994 
  • Top Percussion/Dance Mania 
    1994 
  • The Best of Dance Mania 
    1994 
  • 3 Grandes Orquestas E Interpretes de La Musica Afro-Cubana, Vol. 1 
    1993 
  • Royal 'T' 
    1993 
  • Night Beat/Mucho Puente, Plus 
    1993 
  • The Best Of Tito Puente Vol. 1 
    1992 
  • Live at the Village Gate 
    1992 
  • Mambo of the Times 
    1992 
  • Salsa en Grande, Vol. 2 
    1992 
  • Cuando Suenan Los Tambores 
    1992 
  • Mambo King: 100th LP 
    1991 
  • When The Night Is Over 
    1991 
  • Hot Timbales 
    1991 
  • Goza Mi Timbal 
    1990 
  • The Best of Tito Puente: El Rey del Timbal! 
    1989 
  • Salsa Meets Jazz 
    1988 
  • Un Poco Loco 
    1987 
  • Mambo Diablo 
    1985 
  • El Rey 
    1984 
  • On Broadway 
    1983 
  • Mucho Puente 
    1964 
  • Puente Now! The Exciting Tito Puente Band 
    1961 
  • Revolving Bandstand 
    1960 
  • Mucho Cha-Cha 
    1959 
  • Mucho Cha-Cha (BMG Latin) 
    1959 
  • Dance Mania Vol. 1 
    1958 
  • Puente's Beat & Herman's Heat 
    1958 
  • Dance Mania: Tito Puente And His Orchestra Volume I 
    1958 
  • Top Percussion 
    1957 
  • Night Beat 
    1957 
  • Mambo Beat... The Progressive Side Of Tito Puente 
    1956 
  • Cuban Carnival 
    1956 
  • Puente Goes Jazz 
    1956 

Tito Puente & Celia Cruz
Tito Puente & Celia Cruz

Tito Puente - Para Los Rumberos

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Comments 1 comment

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Its a very thorough hub on Tito Puente!  Its good to read of the man rising from humble beginnings to being a prodigy, and a humanitarian.  We used to watch him on TV  back in the 70's as Latin music was a part of our Latin houselhold, (we were Santana fans as well)  along with the beat of the popular American songs. You brought back memories with your article. :)  

Thumbs up!

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