Tito Puente: The King of Latin Music
If Celia Cruz was the queen of salsa, then Tito Puente was her king. A true icon in Latin music, Puente was responsible in large part for helping to spread the popularity of salsa as it developed in the 1960s and 70s.
Born in 1923 in Harlem, New York, Tito fell in love with music at a young age. He was a natural born percussionist, banging on pots and pans in his parents’ kitchen until the neighbors just couldn’t stand it anymore. Tito received his break into the New York City music scene when a popular band’s drummer was drafted into the military. After impressing Machito, the leader of the group, Tito took the place of percussionist in his band.
By the 1950s Tito Puente was reaching the apex of his popularity. As the leader of his own group, he was responsible for taking a number of classic Latin music styles such as the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the son and creating a modern fusion, the likes of which had never been heard before. Eventually this new style became known as salsa, which has grown into one of the most popular Latin styles of music today.
Tito also served as something of a mentor for another of Latin music’s biggest stars, Celia Cruz. She moved to New York after having been exiled from Cuba and there Tito accepted her into his band. This gave her the exposure she needed to truly send her popularity to the next level.
During his lifetime and after his death, Tito received a number of honors and awards. He received the key to the city of New York as well as a medal of honor from the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. He has a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California and an amphitheater named after him in Puerto Rico.
Despite the diversity of modern salsa music fans, most can agree on a nickname for Tito Puente—The King of Latin Music.