Tito Puente

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Tito Puente
Tito Puentes.jpg
Puente in 1998
Background information
Birth nameErnest Anthony Puente Jr.
Born(1923-04-20)April 20, 1923
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 2000(2000-06-01) (aged 77)
New York City, New York, U.S.
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Years active1946–2000
Associated acts

Ernest Anthony "Tito" Puente, Jr. (April 20, 1923 – June 1, 2000) [1] was an American musician of Puerto-Rican descent, songwriter, record producer and bandleader. Puente is often credited as "The Musical Pope", "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 endured over a 50-year career. His most famous song is "Oye Como Va". [2]


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 and The Simpsons two-part episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?".

Early life

Tito Puente was born on April 20, 1923, at Harlem Hospital Center in the New York borough of Manhattan, the son of Ernest and Felicia Puente, stateside Puerto Ricans residing in New York City's Spanish Harlem area. [3] [4] His family moved frequently, but he spent the majority of his childhood in Spanish Harlem. [3] Puente's father was the foreman at a razorblade factory. [5]

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. [5] He switched to percussion by the age of 10, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. [5] 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. [4] [5] When the drummer in Machito's band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place. [5]


Puente 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.

We play jazz with the Latin touch, that's all, you know. [6]

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-chá, to mainstream audiences. Puente 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.

Among his most famous compositions are mambo "Oye como va" (1963), [2] popularized by Latin rock musician Carlos Santana and later interpreted, among others, by Julio Iglesias, Irakere and Celia Cruz. 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. [7]

Puente's timbales in the Tito Puente exhibit in the Artist Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix Phoenix-Musical Intrument Museum-Tito Puente exhibit-2.jpg
Puente's timbales in the Tito Puente exhibit in the Artist Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix

In early 2000, Tito Puente appeared in the music documentary Calle 54 . [8] After a show in Puerto Rico on May 31, 2000, 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 on June 1, 2000 at 2:27am. [9] 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, [10] 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 Puente's, as well as Arsenio Rodríguez's, contributions, and features interviews with some of the musicians Puente recorded with Alfonso "El Panameno" Joseph.

Puente's son Richard "Richie" Puente was the percussionist in the 1970s funk band Foxy. 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

Timbales on display at the Smithsonian Puente timbales.JPG
Timbales on display at the Smithsonian
National Medal of Arts NationalMedalofArts.jpg
National Medal of Arts


As leader

  • Mambos Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 (10" LP's, 1951) Tico
  • Mambos Vol. 3 & Vol. 4 (10" LP's, 1952) Tico
  • Mambos Vol. 5 & King of the Mambo, Vol. 6 (10" LP's, 1953) Tico
  • Mamborama (1955) Tico
  • Puente In Percussion (1956) Tico
  • Cha Cha Cha's For Lovers (1956) Tico
  • Cuban Carnival (1956) RCA Victor
  • Night Beat (1957) RCA Victor
  • Top Percussion (1958) RCA Victor
  • Dance Mania (1958) RCA Victor
  • Dancing Under Latin Skies (1959)
  • Mucho Cha-Cha (1959) [17]
  • Tambo (1960) RCA Victor
  • Cha Cha With Tito Puente at Grossinger's (1960) RCA Victor
  • El Rey: Bravo (1962) Tico
  • Tito Puente Swings, The Exciting Lupe Sings (1965)
  • El Rey (The King) (1968) Tico
  • El Rey: Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble (1984) Concord Picante
  • Mambo Diablo (1985) Concord Picante
  • Sensacion (1986) Concord Picante
  • Un Poco Loco (1987) Bellaphon
  • Goza Mi Timbal (1989) Concord Picante
  • Tito's Idea (1995) Tropi Jazz / RMM
  • Jazzin' (with India) (1996) Tropi Jazz / RMM
  • 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 '99: 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 (1996)
  • Rey (2000)
  • His Vibes & Orchestra (2000)
  • Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
  • Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. 3 (2000) featuring Celia Cruz
  • 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)
  • Masterpiece/Obra maestra (2000) with Eddie Palmieri
  • 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)
  • Quatro: The Definitive Collection(2012)

As sideman

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Benny Golson

With Quincy Jones

With Hilton Ruiz

With Sonny Stitt


Selected feature films


Concert films

The Simpsons

Puente appeared in the two-part whodunit drama " Who Shot Mr. Burns? " in the sixth season finale and seventh season premiere of American comedy cartoon show The Simpsons in 1995. In the shows, Puente joins Springfield Elementary School as a music teacher after the school discovers it is located over an oil well. However, Mr. Burns manages to pump the oil first which makes him the legal owner of the well. This causes the school to fall into debt with budget cuts required to the music and maintenance departments, causing Puente to lose his job. When Burns is later shot, Puente becomes one of the prime suspects but manages to clear himself by performing one of his songs for Chief Wiggum. Seven alternative endings were filmed of various characters shooting Burns; Puente is one of the alternates. Although all endings were filmed, the ending of Maggie Simpson shooting Burns was the ending chosen to air.

The Emmy-nominated song "Señor Burns" from the episode is featured on the 1999 album, Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons .

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Oye Como Va 1962 Tito Puente song

"Oye Como Va" is a 1962 cha-cha-chá by Tito Puente, originally released on El Rey Bravo. The song achieved worldwide popularity in 1970, when it was recorded by Mexican-American rock group Santana for their album Abraxas. This version was released as a single in 1971, reaching number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 11 on the Billboard Easy Listening survey, and number 32 on the R&B chart. The block chord ostinato pattern that repeats throughout the song was most likely borrowed by Puente from Cachao's 1957 mambo "Chanchullo", which was recorded by Puente in 1959.

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Mario Rivera was a Latin jazz saxophonist from the Dominican Republic. Besides saxophone, Rivera played trumpet, flute, piano, vibraphone, congas, and drums.

Bobby Sanabria is an American drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, producer, educator, radio host of Puerto Rican descent who specializes in jazz and Latin jazz. An 8X Grammy nominee as a leader, he is the musical director of Quarteto Aché, Sexteto Ibiano, Ascensión, and his Multiverse Big Band. He is on the faculty of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, NYU and for 20 years was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Seven of Sanabria's albums have been nominated for a Grammy Award: Afro-Cuban Dream: Live & In Clave!!! (2000), 50 Years of Mambo - A Tribute To Damaso Prado (2003), Big Band Urban Folktales (2007) Kenya Revisited Live!!! (2009), Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (2011), Multiverse - nominated for two Grammys (2012), West Side Story Reimagined (2018) which was also named Record of The Year by the Jazz Journalist's Association (2019). He has received numerous awards and accolades including the 2018 LeJENS of Latin Jazz Award Keepers of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his leadership and innovation in Latin jazz and the 2019 New York International Salsa Congress David Melendez Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary contributions to Latin music as a musician, teacher, historian, radio host and dedication to preserving the art of Latin music and Latin jazz. He was named "Padrino" (Godfather) of the 2019 National Puerto Rican Day in New York City.

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El Rey is a 1984 Latin jazz album by 6-time Grammy Award-winning musician, band and orchestra leader, Tito Puente. Puente's move towards jazz came at the same time as Eddie Palmieri's albums. It includes performances by Tito Puente not only on timbales, but on vibraharp playing a medley of "Stella by Starlight" and "(Tu, Mi) Delirio", as well as "Autumn Leaves" and "Rainfall". There are also excellent, inventive, driving performances of two works by John Coltrane: "Giant Steps" and "Equinox", as well as Puente's own hit songs "Oye Como Va" and "Linda Chicana". Concord Picante records, Concord Jazz, Inc. Produced by Tito Puente.

Chanchullo 1957 single by Orquesta de Arcaño y sus Maravillas

"Chanchullo" is a danzón-mambo composed by Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" López. It was first released as a single in 1957 by Arcaño y sus Maravillas. It was the third single released on Cuban independent record label Gema and has been covered by multiple artists including Tito Puente, Típica '73 and Rubén González. Puente himself reworked the song as the successful "Oye cómo va", later recorded by Santana, for which Cachao received no credit. Instrumental versions of the song have been recorded variously under the titles "Mambolandia" and "Mambología", often credited to Peruchín.


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Further reading