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Ray Barretto: 1929—: Musician

Became A Conguero

When Barretto finished his stint in the army in 1949, he returned to New York. He bought conga drums and began to sit in on jam sessions with other musicians and perform at clubs like the Bucket of Blood. Barretto told National Public Radio, "What I did as a player was develop a style that suited jazz players [and] that worked in a straight ahead swing context." He received his first steady job with Eddie Bonnemer's Latin Jazz Combo, and then joined José Curbelo for two years. Barretto received his big break in 1957 when he replaced Mongo Santamaría in Tito Puente's band. After sitting in with the band for only one night, he was invited to participate in the recording of Puente's classic, Dance Mania. He remained with Puente for four years, and then played with Herbie Mann for four months. In 1961 Barretto formed a band and recorded his first effort as a leader for Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records. He also recorded a single, "El Watusi," that reached the Top 20 U.S. pop charts in 1963.

At a Glance . . .

Born Ray Barretto on April 29, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York; son of Delores Barretto.

Career: Played with Tito Puente, 1957-61; signed with Riverside Records, 1961; worked as session player, 1960s; achieved chart success with "El Watusi," 1963; joined Fania and recorded Acid, 1967; directed Fania All-Stars; teamed with Adalberto Santiago for Rican/Struction, 1979; teamed with Celia Cruz and Adalberto Santiago for Tremendo Trio!, 1983; formed New World Spirit and signed with Concord, 1991; signed with Blue Note, mid-1990s.

Awards: Best Conga Player, Latin NY magazine poll, 1975, 1976; Best Conga Player, Musician of the Year, Latin NY, 1977; Album of the Year, Musician of the Year, Best Conga Player, Latin NY, 1980; won ACE (The Hispanic Association of Entertainment Critics of New York) Award for Salsa Album of the Year for Tremendo Trio!, 1983; Grammy with Celia Cruz for Ritmo En El Corazón, 1990; inducted into International Latin Hall of Fame, 1999.

Addresses: Office—6407 Overbrook Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19151.

Besides recording his own dates during the 1960s, Barretto also became a busy session musician, participating on dates with Kenny Burrell, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Hubbard, and many others. In 1967 he moved to Fania Records, where he would eventually direct the Fania All-Stars. He recorded Acid the same year, a landmark album that combined a number of styles. "Barretto gained major popularity among Latin audiences for the first time with Acid, which ingeniously blended Latin, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues ingredients," noted Roberts in The Latin Tinge.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Miguel Angel Asturias: 1899-1974: Writer to Don Berrysmith Biography - Grew up in the Pacific NorthwestRay Barretto: 1929—: Musician Biography - Became A Conguero, Ventured Into New Directions, Formed New Band