Tito Puente

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Tito Puente
Puente in 1996
Puente in 1996
Background information
Birth nameErnest Anthony Puente Jr.
Born(1923-04-20)April 20, 1923
New York City, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 2000(2000-06-01) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Years active1946–2000

Ernest Anthony Puente Jr. (April 20, 1923 – June 1, 2000),[1] commonly known as Tito Puente, was an American musician, songwriter, bandleader, timbalero, and record producer. He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions from his 50-year career. His most famous song is "Oye Como Va".[2]

Puente and his music have appeared in films including The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba's Calle 54. He guest-starred on television shows, including Sesame Street and The Simpsons two-part episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?".

Early life[edit]

Puente was born on April 20, 1923, at Harlem Hospital Center in the New York borough of Manhattan, the son of Ernest and Felicia Puente, Puerto Ricans living in New York City's Spanish Harlem.[3][4] His family moved frequently, but he spent the majority of his childhood in Spanish Harlem.[3] Puente's father was the foreman at a razorblade factory.[5] His family called him Ernestito, Spanish for Little Ernest, and this became shortened to "Tito".[6]

As a child, he was described as hyperactive, and after neighbors complained of hearing seven-year-old Puente beating on pots and window frames, his mother sent him to 25-cent piano lessons.[5] He switched to percussion by the age of 10, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa.[5] He later created a song-and-dance duo with his sister Anna in the 1930s and intended to become a dancer, but an ankle tendon injury prevented him from pursuing dance as a career.[4][5] When the drummer in Machito's band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.[5]


Tito Puente at the Village Gate, in the 1980s

Puente served in the Navy for three years during World War II after being drafted in 1942.[7] He was discharged with a Presidential Unit Citation for serving in nine battles on the escort air craft carrier USS Santee (CVE-29) where his duties included playing alto saxophone and clarinet in the ship's big band as well as occasionally drum set, piano during mess hall, ship's bugler, and machine gunner during battles. The GI Bill allowed him to study music at Juilliard School of Music, where he completed his formal education in conducting, orchestration, and theory after three years.

We play jazz with the Latin touch, that's all, you know.[8]

During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity and helped to bring Cuban and Caribbean sounds like mambo, son, and cha-cha-chá, to mainstream audiences. Puente played popular Cuban rhythms so successfully that many people mistakenly identified him as Cuban. Dance Mania, possibly Puente's most well-known album, was released in 1958.

Among his most famous compositions is the cha-cha "Oye como va" (1963),[2] popularized by Latin rock musician Carlos Santana and later interpreted, among others, by Julio Iglesias, Irakere and Celia Cruz. In 1969, he received the key to the City of New York from former Mayor John Lindsay. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Congressional Record, and in 1993 he received the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian.[9]

Puente's timbales in the Tito Puente exhibit in the Artist Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix

In early 2000, Puente appeared in the music documentary Calle 54.[10]

Tito Puente's name is often mentioned in a television production called La Epoca,[11] a film about the Palladium era in New York, Cuban music and rhythms, mambo and salsa as dances and music and much more. The film discusses many of Puente's, as well as Arsenio Rodríguez's, contributions and features interviews with some of the musicians Puente recorded with.

He is prominently featured in two critically acclaimed TV documentaries, The Palladium: Where Mambo Was King (2002), and the PBS TV 4 part series, Latin Music U.S.A.(2009) Part 1 - Bridges (2009). Both shows feature comprehensive in depth segments on Puente with commentary by well known musicians and scholars.

Personal life and death[edit]

Puente's oldest son Ron Puente is from a first marriage to Mirta Sanchez. Richard "Richie" Puente was the percussionist in the 1970s funk band Foxy. Puente's youngest son, Tito Puente Jr., has continued his father's legacy by presenting many of the same songs in his performances and recordings. His daughter Audrey Puente is a television meteorologist for WNYW and WWOR-TV in New York City.

After a show in Puerto Rico on May 31, 2000, he suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve, but complications developed, and he died on June 1, 2000, at 2:27 am.[12] He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Timbales on display at the Smithsonian
National Medal of Arts


As leader[edit]

  • Mambos Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 (10" LP's, 1951) Tico
  • Mambos Vol. 3 & Vol. 4 (10" LP's, 1952) Tico
  • Mambos Vol. 5 & King of the Mambo, Vol. 6 (10" LP's, 1953) Tico
  • Mamborama (1955) Tico
  • Puente In Percussion (1956) Tico
  • Cha Cha Cha's For Lovers (1956) Tico
  • Cuban Carnival (1956) RCA Victor
  • Night Beat (1957) RCA Victor
  • Top Percussion (1958) RCA Victor
  • Herman's Heat & Puente's Beat! with Woody Herman (1958) Everest (reissued in 2001 as Herman Meets Puente)
  • Dance Mania (1958) RCA Victor
  • Dancing Under Latin Skies (1959)
  • Mucho Cha-Cha (1959)[23]
  • Tambo (1960) RCA Victor
  • Cha Cha With Tito Puente at Grossinger's (1960) RCA Victor
  • El Rey: Bravo (1962) Tico
  • Tito Puente Swings, The Exciting Lupe Sings (1965)
  • El Rey (The King) (1968) Tico
  • El Rey: Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble (1984) Concord Picante
  • Mambo Diablo (1985) Concord Picante
  • Sensacion (1986) Concord Picante
  • Un Poco Loco (1987) Bellaphon
  • Goza Mi Timbal (1989) Concord Picante
  • Tito's Idea (1995) Tropi Jazz / RMM
  • Jazzin' (with India) (1996) Tropi Jazz / RMM
  • Percussion's King (1997)
  • Selection of Mambo & Cha Cha Cha (1997)
  • 50 Years of Swing (1997)
  • Tito Meets Machito: Mambo Kings (1997)
  • Cha Cha Cha Rumba Beguine (1998)
  • Dance Mania '99: Live at Birdland (1998)
  • The Very Best of Tito Puente (1998)
  • Timbalero Tropical (1998)
  • Yambeque (1998)
  • Absolute Best (1999)
  • Carnival (1999)
  • Colección original (1999)
  • Golden Latin Jazz All Stars: In Session (1999)
  • Latin Flight (1999)
  • Latin Kings (1999)
  • Lo mejor de lo mejor (1999)
  • Mambo Birdland (1999)
  • Special Delivery featuring Maynard Ferguson (1996)
  • Rey (2000)
  • His Vibes & Orchestra (2000)
  • Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
  • Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. 3 (2000) featuring Celia Cruz
  • Dos ídolos. Su música (2000)
  • Tito Puente y su Orquesta Mambo (2000)
  • The Complete RCA Recordings. Vol. 1 (2000)
  • The Best of the Concord Years (2000)
  • Por fin (Finally) (2000)
  • Party with Puente! (2000)
  • Masterpiece/Obra maestra (2000) with Eddie Palmieri
  • Mambo Mambo (2000)
  • Mambo King Meets the Queen of Salsa (2000)
  • Latin Abstract (2000)
  • Kings of Mambo (2000)
  • Cha Cha Cha for Lovers (2000)
  • The Legends Collection: Tito Puente & Celia Cruz (2001)
  • The Complete RCA Recordings, Vol. 2 (2001)
  • RCA Recordings (2001)
  • Puente caliente (2001)
  • The Best of... (2001)
  • King of Mambo (2001)
  • El Rey: Pa'lante! Straight! (2001)
  • Cocktail Hour (2001)
  • Selection. King of Mambo (2001)
  • Undisputed (2001)
  • Fiesta (2002)
  • Colección Diamante (2002)
  • Tito Puente y Celia Cruz (2002)
  • Live at the Playboy Jazz Festival (2002)
  • King of Kings: The Very Best of Tito Puente (2002)
  • Hot Timbales! (2002)
  • Dr. Feelgood (2002)
  • Carnaval de éxitos (2002)
  • Caravan Mambo (2002)
  • We Love Salsa (2006)
  • Quatro: The Definitive Collection(2012)

As sideman[edit]

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Benny Golson

With Quincy Jones

With Hilton Ruiz

With Sonny Stitt

With Bobby Sanabria


Selected feature films[edit]


  • Tito Puente: The King of Latin Music (2000)[24]
  • Profiles Featuring Tito Puente Jr. (2007)
  • Latin Knights (2005)
  • Calle 54 (2000)[25]

Concert films[edit]

  • Tito Puente – Live in Montreal (Montreal Jazz Festival) (1983) (2003)
  • Tito Puente – Palladium Days (Newport Jazz Festival) (1997)

The Simpsons[edit]

Puente appeared in the two-part whodunit drama "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" in the sixth season finale and seventh season premiere of American comedy cartoon show The Simpsons in 1995. In the shows, Puente joins Springfield Elementary School as a music teacher after the school discovers it is located over an oil well. However, Mr. Burns manages to pump the oil first, which makes him the legal owner of the well. This causes the school to fall into debt with budget cuts to the music and maintenance departments, causing Puente to lose his job. When Burns is later shot, Puente becomes one of the prime suspects but manages to clear himself by performing one of his songs for Chief Wiggum. Seven alternative endings were filmed of various characters shooting Burns; Puente is one of the alternates. Although all endings were animated, the ending of Maggie Simpson shooting Burns was the ending chosen to air.

The Emmy-nominated song "Señor Burns" from the episode is featured on the 1999 album Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons.

Associated acts[edit]

Eddie Torres (born July 3, 1950), also known as "The Mambo King", is a salsa dance instructor and choreographer. Torres is most known for his association with Puente.[26] Torres' technique developed from various sources including Afro-Cuban son, mambo, and North American jazz dance.[27] His dancing is characterized by sharp, clean movements and a strong connection to the rhythm of the music.


  1. ^ Tito Puente biography. BookRags.com. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Oye Como Va History". Phish.net. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Siegal, Nina (June 6, 2000). "The New York Legacy of Tito Puente". The New York Times. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Ginell, Richard S. "Tito Puente – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e Obejas, Achy (June 2, 2000). "He Beat The Drum For Latin Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  6. ^ John A. Garraty; Mark C. Carnes, eds. (2005). American National Biography. Oxford University Press. pp. 448–449. ISBN 9780199771493.
  7. ^ "Shadow box". navy.togetherweserved.com. Retrieved October 11, 2022.
  8. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 148. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  9. ^ [1] Archived June 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Calle 54; Video Commentary
  11. ^ "Mambo, Salsa, On2, On1, On 2, On 1, Clave, Arsenio Rodriguez, Johnny Pacheco, Alfonso El Panameño, Agustin Caraballoso, Freddy Rios, Mike Ramos, Cuban Pete, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Fania, Cuban, Palladium, Palladium-era, Palladium era, The Palladium". Laepocafilm.com. January 31, 2009. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  12. ^ "Latin musician Tito Puente dies after heart surgery". CNN. June 1, 2000. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
  13. ^ Lannert, John (June 10, 1995). ""El Premio Billboard" Award Recognizes Tito Puente For His Latin And Afro-Caribbean Musical Contributions". Billboard. Vol. 107, no. 23. Nielsen Business Media. p. 60. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  14. ^ "MUSICIAN PUENTE JAZZED OVER HONORARY DOCTORATE". Deseret.com. May 29, 1995. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  15. ^ "Lifetime Honors: National Medal of Arts". Nea.gov. Archived from the original on August 26, 2013. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  16. ^ Alava, S. H. (2007). Spanish Harlem’s Musical Legacy: 1930-1980. Arcadia Publishing Library Editions.
  17. ^ Rosero, Jessica (May 26, 2006). "'La vida es un carnaval' North Hudson celebrates 6th annual Cuban Day Parade". The Hudson Reporter. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  18. ^ de Fontenay, Sounni (December 7, 1998). "International Latin Music Hall of Fame". Latin American Rhythm Magazine. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  19. ^ "List of Honorary Degrees from Columbia University". Secretary.columbia.edu.
  20. ^ "When the King Became a Doctor – News from Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library". blogs.cul.columbia.edu. Retrieved August 7, 2023.
  21. ^ "Latin Legends". postalmuseum.si.edu. Retrieved April 19, 2023.
  22. ^ "Who was Tito Puente and how did he die? Google celebrates entertainer". Newsweek. October 11, 2022. Retrieved October 11, 2022.
  23. ^ "Tito Puente And His Orchestra – Mucho Cha-Cha". Discogs.com. 1959. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  24. ^ "Entertainment". Freshbreadgroup.com. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  25. ^ "Calle 54". IMDb.com. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  26. ^ NAVARRO, MIREYA (September 3, 2000). "Battle of the Mambo Is Bruising Some Toes". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Renta, Priscilla (eds, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, Agustin Laó-Montes) (2007). Technofuturos: Critical Interventions in Latina/o Studies. Lexington Books. p. 283. ISBN 9780739161593.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]