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Ernesto Antonio "Musical Pope" Puente, (April 20, 1923 – June 1, 2000), was a Latin jazz and salsa musician and composer. The son of native Puerto Ricans, Ernest and Ercilia Puente, living in New York City's Spanish Harlem community, Puente is often credited as "El Rey de los Timbales" (The King of the timbales) and "The King of Latin Music". He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions that helped keep his career going for 50 years. He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba's Calle 54. He guest starred on several television shows including Sesame Street, The Cosby Show and The Simpsons.
Tito Puente was born on April 20, 1923, at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City. His family moved frequently, but he spent the majority of his childhood in the Spanish Harlem area of the city. Puente's father was the foreman at a razorblade factory.
As a child, he was described as hyperactive, and after neighbors complained of hearing seven-year-old Puente beating on pots and window frames, his mother sent him to 25 cent piano lessons. By age 10, he switched to percussion, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He later created a song-and-dance duo with his sister Anna in the 1930s and intended to become a dancer, but an ankle tendon injury prevented him pursuing dance as a career. When the drummer in Machito's band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.
Tito Puente Sr. served in the Navy for three years during World War II after being drafted in 1942. He was discharged with a Presidential Unit Citation for serving in nine battles on the escort carrier USS Santee (CVE-29). The GI Bill allowed him to study music at Juilliard School of Music, where he completed a formal education in conducting, orchestration and theory. In 1969, he received the key to the City of New York from former Mayor John Lindsay. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Congressional Record, and in 1993 he received the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian.
During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, like mambo, son, and cha-cha-cha, to mainstream audiences (he was so successful playing popular Afro-Cuban rhythms that many people mistakenly identify him as Cuban). Dance Mania, possibly Puente's most well known album was released in 1958. Later, he moved into more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres that became known as "salsa" (a term that he disliked). In 1979, Puente won the first of five Grammy Awards for the albums A Tribute to Benny Moré, On Broadway, Mambo Diablo, and Goza Mi Timbal. In 1990, Puente was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. He was also awarded a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards, winning Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland. In 1995, he appeared as himself on the Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" In early 2000, he shot the music documentary Calle 54, wearing an all-white outfit with his band. After a show in Puerto Rico on May 31, he suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve, but complications developed and he died during the night of May 31 June 1, 2000. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
Tito Puente's name is often mentioned in a television production called La Epoca, a film about the Palladium era in New York, Afro-Cuban music and rhythms, Mambo and Salsa as dances and music and much more. The film discusses many of Tito Puente's as well as Arsenio Rodriguez's contributions, and features interviews with some of the musicians Puente recorded with such as Alfonso "El Panameno" Joseph, Luis Mangual, Julian Lianos and others.
Puente's youngest son, Tito Puente, Jr., has continued his father's legacy by presenting many of the same songs in his performances and recordings, while daughter Audrey Puente is a television meteorologist for WNYW and WWOR-TV in New York City.
Awards and recognition
- During the presidency of Sen. Roberto Rexach Benítez, Tito Puente received the unique honor of having both a special session of the Senate of Puerto Rico dedicated to him, and 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 Spanish 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.
- Puente performed at the closing ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The timbales he used there are on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
- In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
- In 1990 he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. (ref Hollywood Chamber Of Commerce)
- In 1984 he received an honorary Decree from the Los Angeles City Council.
- On June 5, 2005, Puente was honored by Union City, New Jersey with a star on the Walk of Fame at Union City's Celia Cruz Park.
- Puente In Percussion (1956)
- Dance Mania (1958)
- Dancing Under Latin Skies (1959)
- El Rey: Bravo (1963)
- El Rey: Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble (1984)
- Percussion's King (1997)
- Selection of Mambo & Cha Cha Cha (1997)
- 50 Years of Swing (1997)
- Tito Meets Machito: Mambo Kings (1997)
- Cha Cha Cha Rumba Beguine (1998)
- Dance Mania '98: Live at Birdland (1998)
- The Very Best of Tito Puente (1998)
- Timbalero Tropical (1998)
- Yambeque (1998)
- Absolute Best (1999)
- Carnival (1999)
- Colección original (1999)
- Golden Latin Jazz All Stars: In Session (1999)
- Latin Flight (1999)
- Latin Kings (1999)
- Lo mejor de lo mejor (1999)
- Mambo Birdland (1999)
- Special Delivery featuring Maynard Ferguson (1999)
- Rey (2000)
- His Vibes & Orchestra (2000)
- Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
- Homenaje a Beny Moré. Vol. 3 (2000)
- Dos ídolos. Su música (2000)
- Tito Puente y su Orquesta Mambo (2000)
- The Complete RCA Recordings. Vol. 1 (2000)
- The Best of the Concord Years (2000)
- Por fin (Finally) (2000)
- Party with Puente! (2000)
- Obra maestra (2000)
- Mambo Mambo (2000)
- Mambo King Meets the Queen of Salsa (2000)
- Latin Abstract (2000)
- Kings of Mambo (2000)
- Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
- The Legends Collection: Tito Puente & Celia Cruz (2001)
- The Complete RCA Recordings, Vol. 2 (2001)
- RCA Recordings (2001)
- Puente caliente (2001)
- The Best of... (2001)
- King of Mambo (2001)
- El Rey: Pa'lante! Straight! (2001)
- Cocktail Hour (2001)
- Selection. King of Mambo (2001)
- Herman Meets Puente (2001)
- Undisputed (2001)
- Fiesta (2002)
- Colección Diamante (2002)
- Tito Puente y Celia Cruz (2002)
- Live at the Playboy Jazz Festival (2002)
- King of Kings: The Very Best of Tito Puente (2002)
- Hot Timbales! (2002)
- Dr. Feelgood (2002)
- Carnaval de éxitos (2002)
- Caravan Mambo (2002)
- We Love Salsa (2006)
With Dizzy Gillespie
With Sonny Stitt
- The Matadors Meet the Bull (Roulette, 1965)
Selected Feature Films
- Armed and Dangerous (1986)
- Radio Days (1987)
- The Mambo Kings (1992)
- Tito Puente: The King of Latin Music (2000)
- PROFILES featuring Tito Puente Jr. (2007)
- Latin Knights (2005)
- Calle 54 (2000)
- Tito Puente - Live in Montreal (Montreal Jazz Festival) (1983) (2003)
|| We play jazz with the Latin touch, that's all, you know.
- Tito Puente Biography. BookRags.com. Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
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- Wilds, Tony. Allmusic. "[Tito Puente at All Music Guide Dance Mania Review]".
- Calle 54; Video Commentary
- Latin musician Tito Puente dies after heart surgery, CNN, June 1, 2000. URL accessed on June 1, 2010.
- Mambo, Salsa, On2, On1, On 2, On 1, Clave, Arsenio Rodriguez, Johnny Pacheco, Alfonso El Panameno, Agustin Caraballoso, Freddy Rios, Mike Ramos, Cuban Pete, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Fania, Afro-Cuban, Palladium, Palladium-era, Palladium era, The Palladium. Laepocafilm.com (2009-01-31). Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
- Lifetime Honors: National Medal of Arts. Nea.gov. Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
- Rosero, Jessica (May 26, 2006). "'La vida es un carnaval' North Hudson celebrates 6th annual Cuban Day Parade". The Hudson Reporter. Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
- Entertainment. Freshbreadgroup.com. Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
- Calle 54. IMDb.com. Retrieved on 2012-10-31.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, 1st, Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing.
- Steven Loza (1999) Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music, University of Illinois Press
- Josephine Powell (2007) "Tito Puente:When The Drums Are Dreaming", (Authorhouse 2007)