2 minute read

Tito Puente: 1923-2000: Bandleader, Arranger, Percussionist

Became An Icon

Puente continued touring and recording throughout the 1980s and 1990s and was lauded with phenemonal success. He received four more Grammy Awards for the albums Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble on Broadway, Mambo Diablo, Goza mi Timbal, and Mambo Birdland. In 1990 he was given a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Then in 1991 he made music recording history when he recorded his 100th album, The Mambo King: 100th LP. He also moved from stage to screen during this period, making appearances on the television series The Cosby Show and in the movies Radio Days and Armed and Dangerous. In 1997 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Puente was edging into the status of icon. Oscar Hijuelos, who put Puente in his Pulitzer Prize- winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love acknowledged Puente's status, "If you grew up in the city, he was a fixture, like the mayor or Santa Claus," he told U.S. News and World Report. Puente later played himself in the film adaptation of Hijuelos's novel. Yet despite his fame, he was also known for being a regular guy. "Tito, he always made you laugh," producer Emilio Estefan told the Miami Herald. "The biggest stars are always the ones who are more down to earth, and Tito was a humble man. But he implemented new sounds and rhythms and he was one of the pioneers in bringing Latin music to the world at a time when doing such a thing was extremely difficult." Puente established The Tito Puente Scholarship fund in the hopes that future Latin musicians would not have to endure the same difficulties.

As his entire career had been, Puente's last year was a productive one. At the beginning of 2000 he completed a new CD, Masterpiece/Obra Maestra: Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. Then in April of 2000, he was declared a "Living Legend" by the U.S. Library of Congress. He was wrapping up a series of concerts in Puerto Rico with the island's Symphony Orchestra when breathing problems sent him to the hospital. Canceling his May and June concert dates, he returned to New York City for further treatment. On May 31, 2000, following heart valve replacement surgery, Tito Puente died. Though his passing was felt deeply by all who loved both the man and his music, Arturo Sandoval summed up his passing best. "That man spent 77 years spreading love and music throughout the world. He had a tremendous personality and extraordinary charisma. I think his music will be played forever," he told the Miami Herald, "and maintaining that legacy is the most important thing now."

Selected discography

Dance Mania, RCA, 1958.

Puente Now!, GNP Records/Crescendo, 1960.

El Rey Bravo, Tico Records, 1962.

Homenaje a Benny More, Tico Records, 1978.

Tito Puente and His Latin Ensemble on Broadway, Concord Picante, 1983.

Mambo Diablo, Concord Picante, 1985.

Un Poco Loco, Concord Picante, 1987.

Goza Mi Timbal, Concord Picante, 1990.

The Mambo King: 100th LP, RMM, 1991.

50 Years of Swing (Three CD Compilation), RMM, 1997.

Mambo Birdland, RMM, 1999.


Americas (English Edition), Nov-Dec 1990, p56.

Billboard, June 10, 1995, pL12; April 5, 1997, p10.

Down Beat, January 1984, p27-29, 61; May 1991, p20-21; Nov 1995, p16; August 2000, p6, 12, 62.

Miami Herald, June 1, 2000.

New York Post, May 18, 1974, p. 15.

Time, June 12, 2000, p. 27.

U.S. News & World Report, June 12, 2000, p. 12.

—Candace LaBalle

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalTito Puente: 1923-2000: Bandleader, Arranger, Percussionist Biography - Showed Musical Talent At Young Age, Formed His First Orchestra, Became An Icon