Charlie Aponte: 40 years with El Gran Combo


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Charlie Aponte’s contribution to El Gran Combo has been meaningful and yet subtle enough to go unnoticed. As El Gran Combo spends three years celebrating its 50 years, I have not heard much about Charlie Aponte‘s 40 years with the legendary Salsa music band.

Pellín Rodriguez’s Substitute in El Gran Combo

That was Charlie’s role…to come in to substitute possibly the most beloved face of El Gran Combo. Pellín Rodriguez was more than a singer; he was an entertainer. An exceptional singer of Boleros and Guarachas alike, Pellín had a gift to make people laugh. He was so natural on stage that people couldn’t help but relate to him.

Charlie Aponte has help keep El Gran Combo's personality after Pellin and Andy.
Charlie Aponte has help keep El Gran Combo’s personality after Pellin and Andy.

When Pellín Rodriguez left in 1972 to pursue a solo career, Andy Montanez sang the next album of El Gran Combo “En Acción” by himself. That’s the only time that has happened in El Gran Combo’s history after their very 1st album with Joseito Mateo.

Charlie Aponte entered El Gran Combo in 1973 for the group’s 2nd Christmas album “El Gran Combo 5“. As I recently wrote in a blog about that album, this was a perfect entry point for Charlie as he liked singing folk music as much as Salsa. But after “5” came the true test; his 1st Salsa album with El Gran Combo, titled “12 Aniversario; Disfrútelo Hasta el Cabo“. He immediately established a Salsa hit with “La Salsa de Hoy“. The song established Charlie as a singer with a good voice, character, and Puerto Rican charm.

Charlie Aponte’s Two Main Contributions

From my viewpoint, the two main contributions Charlie Aponte brought to El Gran Combo were his Puerto Rican charm and his Dancing/Choreography ability.

Showcase the Puerto Rican charm – one of the characteristics that distinguish El Gran Combo from any other Puerto Rican Salsa music band, is their ability to genuinely expose the Puerto Rican charm and idiosyncrasy through their on-stage and off-stage behavior. Their funny songs, their comedic album covers, their stage presence, everything about El Gran Combo reflected the common Puerto Rican spirit. No other group comes even close to this. La Sonora Ponceña, Bobby Valentin, Willie Rosario, Tommy Olivencia, none have that Puerto Rican charm as evident as El Gran Combo.

Although Pellín Rodriguez was the king of showcasing the Puerto Rican charm, Charlie proved he could do it too. There are many examples, but one of the ones most memorable for me is his comment in the song “Mas Feo Que Yo” when he says..”ella jura que esta saliendo con Rock Hudson….mira recógete“.

Charlie Aponte has contributed greatly to the success of El Gran Combo.
Charlie Aponte has contributed greatly to the success of El Gran Combo.

By bringing this personality trait to El Gran Combo, Charlie helped pass the torch of this unique characteristic of “los mulatos del sabor“.

Keep the Choreography – but El Gran Combo has also been distinguished by their choreography upfront. Roberto Roena was the original choreographer, as he was not only the bongo player but also a great dancer. When Roberto left to form his Apollo Sound, Rafael Ithier had to bring in two guys to substitute him. Baby Serrano entered to play the bongo, and Mike Ramos to do the choreography.

Charlie Aponte is an innate dancer, so when he entered the group, unlike Jerry Rivas, he immediately picked up on the choreography from Mike Ramos. When Mike Ramos left the group, Charlie took over choreography duties that have kept El Gran Combo’s trademark stage entertainment alive and well.

El Gran Combo After Charlie Aponte

At some point down the road (hope far, far done the road) Charlie will retire from El Gran Combo. Somehow at that point, I feel El Gran Combo will change its personality as a Salsa music band.

I do realize that that has been said many, many times before with El Gran Combo. It started when Roberto Roena left, then when Pellín Rodriguez left, and then when Andy Montañez, left. Through all those major changes, El Gran Combo has remained the same.

But somehow I still believe that Charlie’s departure will mark a turning point. I’m not saying that El Gran Combo will decline, as was said of the previous changes. However, I do think they will change their personality. It will be a different Gran Combo. I already feel that with Willie Sotelo’s influence in the band as arranger and pianist.

But before going too far down that road, it’s worth appreciating what Charlie Aponte continues to do for El Gran Combo and all that he has done for over 40 years.

Do you think El Gran Combo will change when Charlie Aponte leaves?

Charlie Aponte Interview Video

Here is a video of an interview with Charlie Aponte, where he talks about his beginning in music and how he entered El Gran Combo:

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  1. Anonymous says

    I found this article of Charlie by mistake. But it is really all true. I born in 1971 and became gran combo fan by 1982 when they relaunch 8 hits from the 60s in the orange lp. Also i like the green cassettes and 8 tracks.
    But Charlie really is one of my favorites singers if not the first.
    Unfortunatelly i have not met him in person . Over the years i have had the chance to speak with Jerry, Papo and Rafael Ithier but not with him.
    Definetelly one of the greatest.

    [email protected]

  2. Hector L Gonzá lez says

    ***The Gran Combo of Puerto Rico! Wow! A Musical institution that really reflects the Puerto Rican Spirit. Yes, I believe the gran Combo will go on but definitely will not be the same .Charlie became an integral part of the success of the Gran Combo and has to be given credit for it. Leaving aside the talks and rumors and hypothetic that His departure creates, every time a renown member of the Combo leaves it brings forth an evolutionary period.
    ***That being said: Make no mistake that Charlie Aponte has to be given credit for the success of Los Mulatos del Sabor ,La Universidad de la Salsa , as many choose to call them.41 years is a long term relation in any relationship and it must have hurt all involved. It’s like a marriage gone bad after so many years.

    ***Most likely what has happen is that expectation were not met. There were disagreements, with 41 years under his belt he must know some or most of the professional operations ,resources , capacities , and where their headed for the future.Charlie does not seem to want to be part of that journey and of course this is where roads part.

    ***This is basically contractual disagreements and time to move on to better things and maintain a good personal, professional relationship intact. It was Sort of like bringing a third person into a long married relationship . Sometimes people make their way into that relationship and all hell brakes loose..Leaving in good standing is something hard for most to do when the territory has been invaded .A sort of house invasion!
    When a wolf marks his territory the urine he marks it with some times is intolerable to the counterparts.. No one that’s professional wants a contest.

    ***Rafael Ithier is and has been a great founder and director and friend but clearly has reached a point in his life where he has made a contractual decision to guarantee an on going legacy for an on-going institution.

    ***Charlie on the other hand has had a great run with the Gran Combo, has acquired much professional experience and recognition ,respect and integrity and has reached a plateau in this particular musical organization . The more you grow in musical perspective ,the more innovative ideas and concepts that may not be welcomed. This happens more often than not! It’s probably happened to Charlie .

    ***He has a great future in front of him in achieving many new projects. One who has endeavored and collected experiences for 41 years in and organization like the Gran must have the sky as the limit, as far as plans as concerned.
    He has so many opportunities ahead of him by going Solo or incorporating himself in any other well recognized musical organization . I’m sure some offers have already come forward. He will be alright!
    He only left the Gran Combo ,took his pension and retirement benefits before anything goes sour. I must say it is a dam smart move! He is not retiring from the musical world in which he is experience and abled . Charlie has proven to be one of the best and smartest ,but even he didn’t know it until he was given the opportunity to work with Bobby Valentin, in the 35th reunion Aniversario Vuelve a la Carcel, Oso Blanco! Frankly, there he stole the show. He really Did ! And then another View of Charlie Aponte’s soneros capacities awakened to the public. I believe that this is when Rafael Itheir said to himself shucks , the cat’s out of the bag.

    He has many opportunities ahead of him with class acts or make himself a class act group. His words where : Hay Charlie Para Rato!
    I take him at his word . He has a great reputation, integrity and recognition in the musical field and will be a great addition to any great Orchestra of the likes of La Sonora Ponceña, Bobby Valentin and can even build his own musical group and will have the cooperation of every artist in the business ,for Charlie Aponte is a diplomat in every sense of the word.

    There is a certain ego problem in all this stuff:Don Rafael Ithier’s way of thinking that includes not the rest of the members of the Gran Combo. As he gets older he will care less for others interest.He sees his time of showmanship coming to an end in the near future ,especially with his health issues, and wants someone to protect His business interest for his family when he id gone .
    ***When it comes to His Legacy and the legacy of the Gran Combo He sees it as 4 in 1. (1)-Rafael Ithier -(2)Rafael Ithiers Personal achievement (3) – as a family Legacy ,(4) A Musical enterprise, he wants to leave this to His family and wants to be remembered in music history by all Puerto Rico, all the world.
    He must be very careful that by trying to save what has already been established, he doesn’t ruin his character and integrity at this late stage of his life..

    Back to Charlie-He is great talented individual and while his time with the Gran Combo ends in good standing and with a good pension and benefits ,He also benefits from the great experiences of being a 41 year old member of one the most recognized Musical Latin Group in Latin history.
    He too will go down in history as one who lasted 41 years and pulled out in time, to build more legacies for himself. I’m happy for Charlie, for he sees this departure as a blessing to arrive at a new destination from a different perspective than most.

    The Gran Combo came about when another thought to be institution came apart from Cortijo Y Su Combo, for bankruptcy reasons- Rafael Ithier upped and left and took with him:Roberto Rohena ,Martin Quñones, Eddie la Bala ,others and even the band boy “Paleco”. So he is very protective of his brand name( El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico), he wants it to be bigger and no less.

    ***At the end of the day we will continue to love El Gran Combo ,Rafael Ithier, Andy Montanez,Carlos, Charlie Aponte, and Jerry Rivas, that departed Pellin Rodriguez, the singers that made it to be what it is today .They truly have done a magnificent Job as a Singers for Puerto Rico. It is good people that make up an Institution. I’ve seen the evolution of the Gran Combo and have enjoyed every minute of it ,even when I resisted the changes. All will be fine ,Gran Combo fans ,All will be fine !

    Once again I give A shout out to all Salseros and thanks for the privilege of allowing me to make my humble comments about Music that I have lived . It is part of who I am and of my humble roots. …Boricua Hasta La Muerte!
    Respectfully Yours,

    Héctor L. González Falcón,

  3. Anonymous says

    It was great to read this article about this great salsa artist. Great research work. Congratulations.

  4. Luz Rivera says

    Great article. I knew something was going on but didn’t know what till now. I wil miss Charlie, but everything has to come to an end. All the artists El Gran Combo has had have the best of the best. I will always admire the . Like you, Boricua hast a la muerte. Good luck Charlie wherever you go.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Thanks for those comments and for reading Latino Music Café.

  5. […] of the above seems to indicate that Charlie Aponte took his decision based on his time spent with El Gran Combo and what he wanted to do with the rest […]

  6. […] no string of artists singing. Victor Manuelle takes care of the singing duties with Charlie Aponte being the only guest singer in one […]

  7. […] Except for the first single of the album “No Hay Manera”, Juan Jose wrote the next three hit singles of the album with the title song (which was the most memorable of the album), “Si La Ves Por Ahi”, a nice bomba song, and “Te Veo Nena” the #4 single and perhaps my favorite song of the album performed brilliantly by Charlie Aponte. […]

  8. […] Note: I wrote a blog to celebrate Charlie’s 40 years with El Gran Combo, and towards the end shared my thoughts on what I thought would happen when the day came he decided to retire. You can read to see if my predictions were true HERE. […]

  9. […] fans finally get to sample what Charlie Aponte is working on launching his solo career with “Para […]

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