Rubén González (pianist)
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González was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. He learned to play the piano at the music high school of Cienfuegos. He studied medicine but abandoned his studies due to financial difficulties. He began playing with groups in Las Villas. In 1940, he moved to Havana, where he played in the charangas of Paulina Álvarez and Paulín, with Arsenio Rodríguez, Kubavana and Senén Suárez and in the big bands Siboney and Riverside. In 1943, he released his first recording, together with Arsenio Rodríguez. During the 1950s, he served as a member of the Orquesta América, Orquesta de Enrique Jorrín and CMQ. Between 1957 and 1961, he worked in Venezuela. Soon he became known in Cuba and other parts of Latin America.
In the early 1960s Rubén became the pianist for the Orquesta de Enrique Jorrín, and would continue to play for him for the next 25 years. After Jorrín's death in 1987, González briefly took over the role of band leader, but retired soon after.
González retired in the late 1980s, but after U.S.-musician Ry Cooder heard about him in 1996 he called to meet him despite false claims that Rubén could no longer play due to arthritis. After Ry Cooder insisted on meeting him, Rubén González (who up to this point had not owned a piano in approximately 11 years) started a second career in 1996 under Ry Cooder's wing. It was this same year when the solo album Introducing...Rubén González was recorded and released. The next year, Ry Cooder produced the Grammy winning Buena Vista Social Club, featuring González, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Orlando "Cachaíto" López, Omara Portuondo, and Eliades Ochoa among other veteran Cuban musicians, most of whom had careers and foundations that went back to the famous 1950s Havana scene. Wim Wenders filmed a documentary under the same name, and González and his colleagues became famous worldwide.
González's last public appearances were in Mexico and Cuba in 2002.
In an interview held in March 2003, the lead singer from the Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, was asked about his friendship with González, for which he answered:"Whoever had the chance, and I dare to say, honor, to have met Rubén González, would understand my following words. Mr. Gonzalez was the simplest and most humble man I had, and will ever meet. It’s hard to describe his perspective of music and how he interpreted it. In the 1950's, after the revolution affected our beautiful country, many people started seeing music as a way to gain money and a business worthily of exploding. Few were the artists who remained faithful to their musical ideals and tendencies, few were like Rubén González. Did you know that Ruben spent 5 years polishing shoes, despite his talent? He enjoyed playing the piano like no one else. Ruben was a person we all should admire and look up to and have as a role model. He always acted in the good of people, someone you could trust and rely on if you had a problem. It’s a shame that we lost such a valuable person, but that’s how life works, and there’s nothing we can do.”
González is buried in Havana's Colon Cemetery.
- 1997: Introducing...Rubén González
- 1998: Indestructible
- 1999: Estrellas de Areito
- 2000: Sentimiento
- 2000: Rubén González & Friends
- 2000: Chanchullo
- 2002: Y La America del 55