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A Tribute to The King

May 31, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

This week the Herald commemorates the second anniversary of Latin Music’s anointed King, Tito Puente. On May 31, 2000, at the age of 77, Ernesto Antonio Puente walked away from his drums for the last time. His memory is still strong among his many fans and with musicians who played to the beat of his rhythms.

The future King’s time on this bandstand began when this Heir Apparent was born in "El Barrio" of New York’s Spanish Harlem to parents newly arrived from Puerto Rico. The future Latin music monarch’s mother quickly cut the given name to "Tito." His long and successful "set" ended in the same city after complications developed from heart surgery. And what a heart it was! It beat to the pace of Salsa, Mambo, Cha-Cha, Guagua and Guajira. It opened to the appeals of young musicians who wanted to learn his secrets, it softened at the sight of dancers gyrating to his music, it hardened at any word of hatred or discrimination.

The King’s Domain was the wide, wide world. It was on this grand stage that he reigned as a bandleader, composer, arranger, and percussionist. He was as well respected in Japan as he was in the music halls on Manhattan’s West Side or the clubs of Puerto Rico. The King’s scepter -- a pair of hickory drumsticks; his subjects -- the listeners, the dancers, the watchers that flocked to his concerts or watched his film and TV appearances.

This King’s crown is studded with 100 albums, more than 400 compositions, four Grammy awards and honors from universities, museums, libraries and Presidents. Unlike other kings, he made no conquests, except the hearts that beat with him in 6/8 time. The King began as a dancer and he often thought of his playing as turning dance to music. "Music that can’t be danced to dies out quickly," he told a reporter who asked why Bosa Nova was no longer popular.

He made many other kingly proclamations, one late in life in response to a question by the San Juan Star. He told its reporter that he still had a lot of music in him but, ""there's a lot of young people out there who need to develop their talents and old-timers like me have to give them space." King Tito’s legacy is the influence he has made on Latin Music and its proponents and practitioners. When music writer Alan Feuerstein asked the aging King what he would wish for if he could wave a magic wand to receive anything he wanted, the King responded that he would wish for "a big modern dance hall with great innovative bands, something that is the center of Latin music for a city. Here I could continue to play for my dancers — they are the ones that have supported me over the years."

We hope you found it, Tito.


As is appropriate to the memory of fallen royalty, this week the Herald pays homage to King Tito Puente’s reign with words and video images. By clicking on the icon at the bottom of this page, you can see our profile of King Tito that appeared the day after his death. By clicking the best choice for your computer next to the video icon, you can see and hear "His Majesty" as he receives recognition from the Puerto Rico Legislature in February of 1996. He returns the honor by filling the hall with the beat of his signature number, "Oye! Como Va?"

Click to review the Puerto Rico Herald's profile of Tito Puente the day after his death.
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