Tito Puente was a legendary musician, songwriter, bandleader, and record producer who is widely regarded as one of the pioneers and innovators of Latin jazz and salsa music. He was known for his dance-oriented mambo and cha-cha-chá compositions, his mastery of various percussion instruments, especially the timbales, and his charismatic showmanship. He recorded over 100 albums, won six Grammy Awards, and earned nicknames such as “The Musical Pope”, “El Rey de los Timbales”, and “The King of Latin Music”. He died on June 1, 2000, at the age of 77. What was Tito Puente’s cause of death? How did he spend his last days? And what legacy did he leave behind? This article will explore these questions and more.
Tito Puente’s Early Life and Career
Tito Puente was born Ernest Anthony Puente Jr. on April 20, 1923, in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. He grew up in a musical environment, influenced by jazz and Cuban rhythms. He started playing piano at age six, switched to percussion at age 10, and formed his first band at age 13. He also wanted to become a dancer, but an ankle injury prevented him from pursuing that dream.
He served in the Navy during World War II, where he played saxophone and clarinet in the ship’s band. After the war, he used the GI Bill to study music at Juilliard School of Music, where he learned conducting, orchestration, and theory. He also became a professional musician, playing with various Latin bands in New York.
In 1948, he formed his own orchestra, which became one of the most popular and influential Latin ensembles in the 1950s. He introduced new arrangements and styles to the mambo genre, blending Cuban and Caribbean sounds with jazz and big band elements. He also collaborated with other Latin stars such as Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Machito, and Tito Rodríguez. Some of his hit songs from this period include “Babarabatiri”, “Ran Kan Kan”, “Mambo Gozón”, and “Cao Cao Maní Picao”.
Tito Puente’s Later Years and Achievements
In the 1960s, Puente faced competition from new trends such as rock and roll, soul, and salsa. However, he adapted to the changing musical landscape by incorporating new influences and experimenting with different genres. He also expanded his repertoire to include Latin jazz, bossa nova, pop, funk, and fusion. He continued to record prolifically and tour extensively around the world.
In 1970, his song “Oye Como Va” became a huge hit when it was covered by rock band Santana. This brought him a new wave of recognition and appreciation from younger audiences. He also received critical acclaim and recognition from his peers. He won his first Grammy Award in 1979 for the album Homenaje a Beny Moré. He went on to win five more Grammys in the 1980s and 1990s for albums such as On Broadway, Mambo Diablo, Goza Mi Timbal, Master Timbalero, and Mambo Birdland.
He also appeared in several films and television shows, such as The Mambo Kings (1992), Calle 54 (2000), Sesame Street (1979), The Cosby Show (1985), The Simpsons (1995), and The Muppets (1996). He was honored with numerous awards and distinctions throughout his career, such as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1990), a key to New York City (1969), an honorary doctorate from Yale University (1997), a National Medal of Arts (1997), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Recording Academy (2003), and induction into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame (1997).
Tito Puente’s Death and Legacy
Tito Puente died on June 1, 2000, at New York University Hospital. He had suffered a massive heart attack on May 31 after performing in Puerto Rico. He was flown to New York for surgery to repair a heart valve, but complications developed and he passed away at 2:27 am. According to Newsweek, he had been hospitalized for heart trouble a month before his death while on tour in Puerto Rico.
He was survived by his wife Margaret Asencio Puente, whom he married in 1963; his son Tito Puente Jr., who is also a musician; his daughter Audrey Puente, who is a meteorologist; his sister Anna Puente; his brother Robert Puente; four grandchildren; and countless fans and admirers around the world.
He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Hudson River. A public memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on June 5, 2000, where thousands of people gathered to pay tribute to the King of Latin Music. Among the speakers and performers were Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, La India, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón, Rubén Blades, and Gloria Estefan.
Tito Puente’s legacy lives on through his music, which continues to inspire and influence generations of musicians and listeners. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile Latin artists of all time, who transcended cultural and musical boundaries with his talent and charisma. He is also remembered as a generous and humble person, who loved his family, his fans, and his culture. As he once said: “I just play music that makes people happy. That’s my contribution to the world.”