Tito Puente: Bringing “El Rey” to a New Generation


A New York Times article published this week highlighted a 3-day celebration of Tito Puente which took place this weekend in the Bronx.

This celebration had the intention to keep Puente’s legend alive for the new generation of Latinos in the area who might not be as familiar with the music and contributions of the Nuyorican master timbalero.

The NYT’s article is a great read and I’ll share a link to it further down in this blog. The article mentions that it’s a 50-year celebration of “El Rey”. I have to assume they mean 50 years of Tito Puente’s album “El Rey”, released in 1968 (according to what I found on Wikipedia), which would make it 49 years since its release, but heck, it’s close enough.

This week also commemorates Tito’s 94th birthday!

Let’s Keep Celebrating Our Latin Music Legends

I was happy to read the NYT’s article because this type of celebration of our Latin Music icons, particularly when geared towards our younger generation of Latinos should be done more often. Although Tito Puente was from El Barrio in NYC, his parents emigrated there from Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, we don’t have such a celebration of Tito Puente in Puerto Rico. We do have an amphitheater named after him, as there are streets in NYC named after the late maestro as well, but that’s not going to preserve his music or legacy.

Mambo Legends Orchestra Latin music big band
Maestros Jose Madera and John “Dandy” Rodriguez lead the Mambo Legends Orchestra, a big band with alumni from Tito Puente’s orchestra.

I don’t think we need 3-day celebrations all across Latin America for our Latin music legends, but some sort of smaller celebrations should be done. In Puerto Rico, we should at least have one day where the “Instituto de Cultura” (Culture Institute of Puerto Rico) celebrated Puente with a few lectures and a band playing his music, in a family atmosphere (perhaps during the day), and then perhaps more festive during the evening.

For non-native Latin music legends, perhaps radio stations can do special programming with guests and music from that legend on their birthday anniversary. We need to come up with ways to keep our music, and therefore our culture alive, and remembering and honoring our Latin music legends should be part of that.

Music educators like Bobby Sanabria (New York), Luis “Perico” Ortiz (Puerto Rico), and John Santos (San Francisco) are among the few that keep our culture alive by sharing their knowledge of Latin music. We need an army of them from New York to Patagonia!

I’m certainly trying to put my 2 cents on preserving our Latin music and music legends alive with this Latino Music Café blog site. Let me not forget to say “BRAVO” to the New York Times for the article, to the maestro Jose Madera and his Mambo Legends Orchestra for providing the music of Tito Puente, and to the organizers of the 3-day celebration at the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture in the Bronx.

More on Tito Puente

PBS still has some videos of Latin music called “The Legends” series. They have one of “The Legends: Tito Puente“.

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