El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

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El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
From left to right: singer Jerry Rivas, musical director Rafael Ithier and singers Charlie Aponte and Luis "Papo" Rosario the first song of gran combo was tingoli
From left to right: singer Jerry Rivas, musical director Rafael Ithier and singers Charlie Aponte and Luis "Papo" Rosario the first song of gran combo was tingoli
Background information
Also known as
  • The University of Salsa
  • Los Mulatos del Sabor
  • El Combo
OriginPuerto Rico
Years active1962 (1962)–present[1]
  • Jerry Rivas
  • Joselito Hernández
  • Anthony Garcia
  • Rafael Ithier
  • Freddie Miranda
  • Luis "Taty" Maldonado
  • Moisés Nogueras
  • Freddy Rivera
  • Domingo "Cuqui" Santos
  • Miguel "Pollo" Torres
  • Richie Bastar
  • Virgil Rivera
Past members

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, commonly known as El Gran Combo, is a Puerto Rican salsa orchestra based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.[2] Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, it was often considered Puerto Rico's most successful musical group.[3] The group received the moniker La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa) in Colombia,[4] due to the sheer number of famous salsa musicians and singers who developed their careers with it, who started with the group (particularly Andy Montañez), or who were occasionally backed up by the band and La India.

The salsa orchestra was founded in May 1962,[5] by Rafael Ithier.[6] Ithier was still nominally its musical director, and is the only remaining member from the band's original lineup. From 2010 until his death in 2022,[7] Willie Sotelo, who joined the group in 2006 as pianist, had become the band's de facto musical director on tours, with Ithier conducting the group and playing occasionally in select live performances. They are still actively performing after 50 years together.[8] The group was scheduled to celebrate its 50th anniversary on 11 November 2012 at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.[9] The group started its celebration with a grand world tour that took them to five continents.[10]

On November 24, 2022, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, on its 60th anniversary, was featured on Norberto Vélez's YouTube channel titled "Sesiones Desde La Loma Ep. 32". El Gran combo de Puerto Rico is the first Orchestra featured at the hill.



Rafael Ithier had been a member of Rafael Cortijo's "Cortijo y su Combo" orchestra. After singer Ismael Rivera faced legal drug possession problems when arriving from Panama, some of the group's musicians departed, with Ithier relocating temporarily to the eastern United States. Rafael Álvarez Guedes, the Cuban-born owner of the Gema recording label (and brother of comedic actor Guillermo) needed a backing band to record an album for legendary Dominican merengue singer Joseíto Mateo. He asked Ithier for assistance, and Ithier responded by bringing in many of his former colleagues return to the studio. For their first recording sessions, the orchestra included some musicians from Cortijo's original lineup, including saxophonist Hector Santos, trumpet player Rogelio "Kito" Velez, and percussionists Martín Quiñones, Miguel Cruz and Roberto Roena. Alvarez Guedes wanted to name the group Rafael Ithier Y Su Combo in relation to Cortijo, but Ithier refused the name and the name El Gran Combo was born, as to refer to the musicians' former affiliation, but addressing their regrouping as a "new and improved" version of Cortijo's orchestra. The album they recorded was titled Menéame Los Mangos, El Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo (the phrase translates as Shake Your Mangoes for Me, a double entendre).[11]

The group met again to define the foundations of a proper orchestra and chose singers Daniel Vázquez, Pellín Rodríguez and Chiquitín García (who later composed among other major EGC hits, "No Hago Más Ná", and many of Gran Combo's hits). On May 21, 1962, El Gran Combo was heard for the first time on Puerto Rican radio. Later on, they became the in-studio musicians of the live television show, "La Taberna India", sponsored by India Beer.

After their live debut at Hotel La Concha in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Chiquitín García left the orchestra. Vocalist Sammy Ayala, who had also played with Ithier in the Cortijo orchestra, recommended the hiring of Andy Montañez. Andy Montañez was singer for a trio in Puerto Rico and had never sung salsa?

First albums[edit]

On November 20, 1963, El Gran Combo released their first group album, Menéame los mangos, with Joseito Mateo as lead singer. Later came Acángana. This album became a number-one hit in New York City, Panama and Puerto Rico. Their success opened doors for them in many Latin American markets and they gained an exclusivity spot on the Puerto Rican television show El Show de las 12. The album also reached gold status.

In 1964, trumpet player and arranger Elías Lopes joined the orchestra, coinciding with the group's first popularity wave. With their daily TV appearances and extensive touring, however, demand for the group declined due to overexposure. Still, in 1967, their album Boogaloo con el Gran Combo also reached gold status. In 1969, Roena and Lopes left the orchestra to form the Apollo Sound together. Despite all this, that same year the group was awarded an Agüeybana de Oro in Puerto Rico. Also, in 1969, Rafael Ithier hired dancer/choreographer Mike Ramos to implement dance routines, which became a signature of El Gran Combo's live performances. Mike came from the world-famous New York City Palladium Ballroom scene. Prior to joining El Gran Combo, Mike danced with the Tito Puente Orchestra and Perez Prado Band among others.

The 1970s[edit]

In 1970, El Gran Combo's contract with Gema Records was not renewed. Despite offers from other record companies including the Motown label, the group decided to self-release recordings under their own newly created independent label, Combo Records (alternatively known as EGC Records). The first album released on the label was the 1970 album entitled Estamos Primeros. On February 15, 1970, the members of El Gran Combo shared a near death experience. They were at Venezuela, and scheduled to fly the following day to Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After landing they were told about the Dominicana Airlines DC-9 that crashed off the Caribbean coast which occurred the night before. Therefore, the tale about a group member having a bad feeling regarding that flight while stranded at the Santo Domingo airport is not entirely true, since they did not arrive there until the day after the crash.[12]

In 1971, El Gran Combo introduced the trombone to their instrument mix. The trombone was played by Fanny Ceballos. Soon after, their production named De Punta a Punta was released. In 1972, they released the album "Por el Libro", which marks the 10th anniversary of the orchestra. Pellín Rodriguez left the group to embark on a solo career. Rodríguez was replaced by Charlie Aponte at the recommendation of Jerry Concepción and the well known sportscaster Rafael Bracero, both friends of Ithier.

In 1973, El Gran Combo sang in front of 50,000 fans at the famous Yankee Stadium in New York City as the opening act for the Fania All-Stars' sold-out concert.

Montañez left the band in early 1977 and went to live in Venezuela where he replaced Oscar D'León in another orchestra, Dimension Latina. Jerry Rivas was then chosen to join the orchestra. The success of this new duo was proved with their 1977 album International and 1978's En Las Vegas which reached gold record status.

In 1966, En Navidad, a Christmas album, was released, with Martín Quiñones appearing as Santa Claus in the album's cover. After an automobile accident in early 1977, Quiñones was replaced in the band by his son, Martín Quiñones Jr. He stayed until 1979, being replaced by Miguel “El Pollo” Torres.

Recent years[edit]

The band continues to receive numerous awards throughout Latin America. In 1984, they traveled to Alaska where they received a great welcome. Soon after Combo Records released their album titled In Alaska: Breaking the Ice. Produced by Ralph Cartagena, the album garnered them their first Grammy nomination.

In 1982 they celebrated their 20th anniversary playing at Madison Square Garden. They also reached Europe that year playing in Paris, France.

In the early 1990s, they were honored in the city of Madrid, Spain to open the decade on the right track. On March 29, 1992, they celebrated a huge concert in the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in front of 30,000 people.

The new millennium[edit]

In 2000, El Gran Combo was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.[13] In 2002, the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with two sold-out concerts at the Ruben Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. This celebration spawned an album. In the same year, they were awarded the Billboard Latin Music Lifetime Achievement Award.[14] A year later, in 2003, they received a Grammy[15] for Best Tropical Album. Among other musicians, they are one of the "enduring superstars of the island."[16]

As of 2006, the orchestra has released over 40 albums or CD's, and it has received many awards, including golden albums, a "Calendario de Plata" in Mexico, a "Golden Congo" in Colombia, a Paoli Award in their native Puerto Rico, an honorable distinction in Spain and countless others.

In 2006, they released their album titled Arroz con Habichuela ("Rice and Beans"). It has already spawned three hit singles. The first one titled "No Hay Manera" ("There's No Way"), the title song, and "Si la ves por ahí".

Around 2006, Rafael Ithier became ill and decided to take a back seat for live performances and although he mostly still tours with the band, Ithier is just conducting the combo rather than playing the piano, however he is still very much the bandleader of the group. Willie Sotelo took the place of Ithier on the piano and also took over some of the travel management duties.

In 2007, El Gran Combo performed two massive concerts at the José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum to celebrate their 45th anniversary.

In 2010, two tribute albums were released, one by former member Andy Montañez and another by the bank Banco Popular, as part of their annual music series.

In August 2011, El Gran Combo rewrote the lyrics to their own hit "No Hago Más Ná", or "I Don't Do Anything Else" that sang in satire about the day of a lazy person to a more positive "Echar Pa'lante" or "Moving Forward" which sang about the virtues of going to work. They also released a video with a positive introductory message which showed clips of working people in similarities with them playing instruments.

The group is still going strong and working continuously. Some music historians have dubbed them La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa), which is also the title of their hit 1983 album.

Recent changes have occurred within the last several years. On August 9, 2013, Founder musician Eddie "La Bala" Perez died due to health complications. On December 12, 2014, Charlie Aponte, one of the vocalists of El Gran Combo for 41 years, retired for personal reasons and launched his own orchestra. His last performance was in Cali, Colombia on December 30, 2014. On January 24, 2015 Anthony Garcia became the new vocalist, as Aponte's replacement. Later in the year, El Gran Combo received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[17][18] Two years later, they were presented with the ASCAP Latin Heritage Award.[19] In early 2019, Luis "Papo" Rosario, the main choreographer and third vocalist since 1980, retired. Joselito Hernández was added as Rosario's replacement.


Album Year Label
Menéame los Mangos, el Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo 1962 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
El Gran Combo... de Siempre 1963 Gema Records / Viva Combo Music
Acángana 1963 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Ojos Chinos, Jala Jala 1964 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
El Caballo Pelotero 1965 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Traigo un Tumba'o, Meneíto Me 1965 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
El Swing del Gran Combo con Pellín y Andy 1966 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
En Navidad 1966 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Maldito Callo 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Esos Ojitos Negros 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Fiesta Con El Gran Combo 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Boleros Románticos 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Tú Querías Boogaloo, Toma Boogaloo 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Pata Pata, Jala Jala Y Boogaloo 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Boogaloos Con El Gran Combo 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Tangos 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Merengues 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Guarachas 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Bombas, Bombas, Bombas 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Los Nenes Sicodélicos 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Latin Power 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
15 Grandes Exitos Vol. 1 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
15 Grandes Exitos Vol. 2 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
15 Grandes Exitos Vol. 3 1967 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Smile, It's El Gran Combo 1968 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Este Si Que es el Gran Combo 1969 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Anos De Andy Montanez 1969 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Aqui Esta Pellin Rodriguez 1969 Gema Records/ Viva Combo Music
Estamos Primeros 1970 EGC Records
De Punta a Punta 1971 EGC Records
Por el Libro 1972 EGC Records
En Acción 1973 EGC Records
5 1973 EGC Records
Disfrútelo Hasta el Cabo! 1974 EGC Records
7 1975 EGC Records
Los Sorullos 1975 EGC Records
Mejor Que Nunca 1976 EGC Records
Internacional 1977 EGC Records
En Las Vegas 1978 EGC Records
¡Aquí No Se Sienta Nadie! 1979 Combo Records
Unity 1980 Combo Records
Happy Days 1981 Combo Records
Nuestro Aniversario 1982 Combo Records
20th Anniversary 1982 Combo Records
La Universidad de la Salsa 1983 Combo Records
In Alaska: Breaking The Ice 1984 Combo Records
Innovations 1985 Combo Records
Nuestra Música 1985 Combo Records
Y Su Pueblo 1986 Combo Records
25th Anniversary 1987 Combo Records
Romántico y Sabroso 1988 Combo Records
¡Ámame! 1989 Combo Records
Latin Up! 1990 Combo Records
Erupción 1991 Combo Records
¡Gracias!: 30 Años de Sabor 1992 Combo Records
30 Aniversario: Bailando Con el Mundo 1992 Combo Records
First Class International 1993 Combo Records
Puerto Rico: La Ruta del Sabor 1994 Combo Records
Para Todos los Gustos 1995 Fonovisa Records
The Best 1995 Sony Discos Norte
Por Todo lo Alto 1996 Fonovisa Records
35th Anniversary: 35 Years Around The World 1997 Combo Records
Pasaporte Musical 1998 Combo Records
Nuevo Milenio: El Mismo Sabor 2001 Combo Records
40 Aniversario en Vivo 2002 BMG
Salsa Classics Revisited- The Re-Mixes 2003 Combo Records
Estamos Aquí...¡Y de Verdad! 2004 Sony Discos Norte
Arroz Con Habichuela 2006 Sony Discos Norte
From the Beginning- 45 years Of Music 2008 Combo Records
Sin Salsa No Hay Paraíso 2010 Sony Discos Norte
50 Years of The Greatest Christmas Hits 1962 thru 2012 2012 Combo Records
50 Anos De Historia 2012 Gema Records / Viva Combo Music
50 Aniversario, Vol. 1 2013 EGC Records
Aqui Esta El Reencuentro with Andy Montanez 2014 Combo Records
Aqui Estoy Yo. Vol. 1- Charlie Aponte Exitos 2015 Combo Records
Alunizando 2016 EGC Records
En Cuarentena 2021 EGC Records

Current members[edit]


  • Jerry Rivas (1977–present)
  • Anthony Garcia (2015–present)
  • Joselito Hernández (2017–present)


Former members[edit]


  • Pellín Rodríguez (1962-1972) (deceased)
  • Andy Montanez (1962-1977)
  • Charlie Aponte (1973-2014)
  • Luis "Papo" Rosario (1980-2019)
  • Marcos Montañez (1972–1973) (deceased)
  • Chiquitín Garcia (1962)
  • Daniel Vazquez (1962) (deceased)
  • Joseito Mateo (1962) (deceased)


  • Milton Correa - timbales (1962-1970)
  • Miguel Malaret Marrero - timbales (1970-1979) (deceased)
  • Edgardo Morales - timbales (1979-1988) (deceased)
  • Roberto Roena - bongos (1962–1969) (deceased)
  • Martín Quiñones - conga (1962-1977) (deceased)
  • Martín Quiñones, Jr. - conga (1977-1979)
  • Daniel "Maninin" Vazquez Verdejo - bongos (1962)(deceased)
  • Baby Serrano - bongos (1969–1984) (deceased)
  • Michell Laboy - bongos (1984–2001) (deceased)


  • Miguel Cruz - bass guitar (1962–1975) (deceased)
  • Fernando Perez - bass guitar (1975–1989)
  • Jaime Valentin - bass guitar (1995–1997)

Brass section[edit]

  • Eddie "La Bala" Perez - alto saxophone (1962–2013) (deceased)
  • José "Keko" Duchesne - saxophone (1969–1980) (deceased)
  • Epifanio "Fanny" Ceballos - trombone (1971–1991) (deceased)
  • Toñito Vázquez - trombone (1991)
  • Nelson Feliciano - trumpet (1979–1980)
  • Gerardo "Grillo" Cruz - trumpet (1969–1979) (deceased)
  • Elias Lopez - trumpet (1964–1969) (deceased)
  • Víctor “Cano“ E. Rodríguez - trumpet (1980-2015) (deceased)


  • Hector Santos (1962–1969) (deceased)
  • Rogelio "Kito" Vélez (1962–1964) (deceased)
  • Mickey Duchesne (1962–1969)
  • Edwin Cortés (1969)
  • Edwin Gonzalez (1979)
  • Tommy Sánchez (1969)
  • Mike Ramos- Coreógrafo y Coros (1969–1980)
  • Paquito Guzman (Coros; Recording Sessions 1971–1976)
  • Elliot Romero (Coros; Recording Sessions 1973–1977) (deceased)
  • Eladio "Yayo El Indio" Peguero (Coros; Recording Sessions 1977–1979) (deceased)
  • Tito Henriquez (Coros; Recording Sessions 1978)
  • Eddie W. Feyjoo (Trumpet; Recording Sessions 1980)
  • Willie Sotelo- Piano 2006 - 2022 (deceased)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ El Gran Combo / El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico - 25th Anniversary 1962-1987 CD. CD Universe. 2012. Muze Inc. Retrieved 3 Sept 2012.
  2. ^ About us. Archived 2012-08-23 at the Wayback Machine El Gran Combo. 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  3. ^ Latin Music. About.com. The New York Times. Retrieved 3 Sept 2012.
  4. ^ El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Universidad de la Salsa: Credits. Rovi Corp. 2012. Retrieved 3 Sept 2012.
  5. ^ Keeling and Rough Guides: "The Rough Guide to Puerto Rico", page 377. Rough Guides, 2008.
  6. ^ 853 F. 2d 996 - El Gran Combo Puerto Rico v. National Labor Relations Board. 853 F.2d 996. 129 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2167, 107 A.L.R.Fed. 223, 109 Lab. Cas. P 10,661. EL GRAN COMBO de PUERTO RICO, d/b/a El Gran Combo, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent. (No. 87-1756.) United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit. Heard March 8, 1988. Decided Aug. 3, 1988. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  7. ^ Cobo, Leila (June 4, 2022). "Willie Sotelo, Member of El Gran Combo, Dies at 61". Billboard. Retrieved August 2, 2022.
  8. ^ Frommer's Puerto Rico: Marino, p. 37
  9. ^ El Gran Combo. El Gran Combo. 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  10. ^ El Gran Combo: World Tour. Archived 2012-08-23 at the Wayback Machine El Gran Combo. 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  11. ^ El Gran Combo. Evan Bailyn. 2006. Retrieved 2 Sept 2012.
  12. ^ "Una tragedia aérea que aún duele". El Nuevo Día (in Spanish). 12 February 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  13. ^ "International Latin Music Hall of Fame Announces Year 2000 Inductees". 1 March 2000. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  14. ^ "Juan Gabriel Cleans Up At Billboard Latin Awards". Billboard. May 10, 2002. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  15. ^ El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico coming to South Florida on Aug. 1. Visit Florida. Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation. July 01, 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  16. ^ Lonely Planet Puerto Rico: Peffer Published, p. 42
  17. ^ Cantor-Navas, Judy (September 16, 2015). "Latin Academy Honors Diverse Artists With Lifetime Achievement Awards". Billboard. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  18. ^ "Gato Barbieri, Ana Belen & Victor Manuel, Angela Carrasco, Djavan, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, and Pablo Milanes to be honored with The Latin Recording Academy® Lifetime Achievement Award". Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. September 15, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  19. ^ "ASCAP Latin Heritage Award". ASCAP. Retrieved December 8, 2020.


External links[edit]