Papo Rosario’s Legacy in El Gran Combo

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Here’s my thoughts on the legacy Papo Rosario left in El Gran Combo as he recently announced his retirement.

Any change in the personnel of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, specifically in its front row, is major news in the Latin music world. The legacy and impact this group has had in Salsa for so many years makes it so.

[Note: to read the blog series on the History of El Gran Combo, you can check the links provided below]

Papo Rosario’s Legacy

Luis “Papo” Rosario entered El Gran Combo in 1980. During his 38 years with the band he left a legacy even without being a principal singer. It’s worth noting that Papo missed most of the last couple of years due to health issues mostly related to a condition in his back. This has prompted his retirement from the band.

So here are what I believe make the main points of Papo Rosario’s legacy in El Gran Combo:

1. Chorus Stabilization: during the 60’s, El Gran Combo did their own choruses, which included Eddie “La Bala” Perez with his falsetto voice. Eddie’s presence in the chorus was almost a trademark of the group, although, this goes back to the 50’s when he did the same with Cortijo y su Combo.

Papo Rosario in Unity backcover
“Unity” (1980) was Papo Rosario’s first album with El Gran Combo.

Then in the 70’s, director Rafael Ithier tried to evolve the sound of El Gran Combo to make it different from Cortijo’s old sound. He added a trombone to the brass section, and replaced Eddie from doing chorus on recordings with special guests. Paquito Guzman replace Eddie in the recording chorus from 1971 to 1976. From 1977 to 1979, Yayo El Indio took over this capacity.

When Papo entered in 1980, he became the main chorus man for the group. Papo’s unique rash voice made good harmony with those of Charlie Aponte and Jerry Rivas. In addition, it had the added benefit of making the live performances sound just like the recordings. So Papo stabilized the important chorus aspect of El Gran Combo.

2. The 3rd Singer: although it didn’t last long, Papo served as a 3rd singer for the group, although in a mininmal role. During the 80’s Papo used to record a song in El Gran Combo albums. Charlie and Jerry splitted the rest of the songs. From the 90’s on, Papo rarely recorded a song, but kept singing, particularly his biggest hit “Carbonerito”, during live performances.

3. The Funny Role: Martin Quinonez and Pellin Rodriguez used to share the role of the funny guy in the group. This mainly meant they were the target of song jokes in the group. For example, Pellin sang the songs of the husband whose wife was unfaithful to him (“Le Dicen Papa”, “A Ti Te Pasa Algo”).

Papo re-recorded “Le Dicen Papa”. Papo also wore a wig to impersonate a woman in Jerry Rivas’ hit “La Reina”. That used to be pretty funny. You need a person with a certain personality to assume this role. When Charlie Aponte replaced Pellin, he did not take this role, which remained vacant until Papo joined the group. We’ll have to see what happens with whomever replaces Papo.

4. Choreaography: Papo entered to replace Mike Ramos in the front line. By this fact, he became the new designated choreographer of the group. However, it was Charlie, who had danced besided Mike and was (and still is) a superb dancer, the one who carried the front dancing for the group. However, Papo was in charge of keeping this group tradition alive.

So to me, these are the main things Papo brought to El Gran Combo. The chemistry he had with Charlie Aponte and Jerry Rivas contributed his success as a 3rd member of the front row of El Gran Combo.

The front row of El Gran Combo is now if full reconstruction. Let’s see how they use this opportunity.

Blog Series: The History of El Gran Combo

Related to this blog, I wrote a series on the History of El Gran Combo. Here are the links:

History of El Gran Combo: Introduction

History of El Gran Combo: the 1960’s

History of El Gran Combo: the 1970’s

History of El Gran Combo: the 1980’s

History of El Gran Combo: the 1990’s

History of El Gran Combo: the 2000’s

History of El Gran Combo: the 2010’s and Future

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