Ernesto Antonio "Tito" Puente (April 20, 1923 - May 31, 2000) was an American musician, songwriter and record producer. The son of Ernest and Ercilia Puente, native Puerto Ricans living in New York City's Spanish Harlem, Puente is often credited as "The Musical Pope", "El Rey de los Timbales" (The King of the Timbales) and "The King of Latin Music". He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions that endured over a 50-year career. He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba's Calle 54. He guest-starred on several television shows, including Sesame Street and The Simpsons two-part episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?". His most famous song is "Oye Como Va".
Tito Puente was born on April 20, 1923, at Harlem Hospital Center in the New York borough of Manhattan. His family moved frequently, but he spent the majority of his childhood in the Spanish Harlem area of the city. Puente's father was the foreman at a razorblade factory.
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. By the age of 10, he switched to percussion, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. 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 pursuing dance as a career. When the drummer in Machito's band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.
Puente served in the Navy for three years during World War II after being drafted in 1942. He was discharged with a Presidential Unit Citation for serving in nine battles on the escort carrier USS Santee (CVE-29). The GI Bill allowed him to study music at Juilliard School of Music, where he completed a formal education in conducting, orchestration and theory. 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.
We play jazz with the Latin touch, that's all, you know.
During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds like mambo, son, and cha-cha-chá, to mainstream audiences. Puente was so successful playing popular Afro-Cuban rhythms that many people mistakenly identify him as Cuban. Dance Mania, possibly Puente's most well known album, was released in 1958.
Among his most famous compositions are mambo "Oye como va" (1963), popularized by Latin rock musician Carlos Santana and later interpreted, among others, by Julio Iglesias, Irakere or Celia Cruz.
 Later, he moved into more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz. In 1979, Puente won the first of five Grammy Awards for the albums A Tribute to Benny Moré, On Broadway, Mambo Diablo, and Goza Mi Timbal.
Puente's timbales in the Tito Puente exhibit in the Artist Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix
In 1990, Puente was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. He was also awarded a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards, winning Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland. In 1995, he appeared as himself on the Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"
In early 2000, he appeared in the music documentary Calle 54. 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 May 31, 2000. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
Tito Puente's name is often mentioned in a television production called La Epoca, a film about the Palladium era in New York, Afro-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 Alfonso "El Panameno" Joseph.
Puente's son 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, while daughter Audrey Puente is a television meteorologist for WNYW and WWOR-TV in New York City.
Awards and recognition
Timbales on display at the Smithsonian
- In 1995, Tito Puente received the Billboard Latin Music Lifetime Achievement Award.
- During the presidency of Sen. Roberto Rexach Benítez, Tito Puente received the unique honor of having both a special session of the Senate of Puerto Rico dedicated to him, and being allowed to perform in his unique style on the floor of the Senate while it was in session.
- On September 10, 2007, a United States Post Office in Spanish Harlem was named after him at a ceremony presided by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. José Serrano (D-NY).
- An amphitheatre was named in his honor at Luis Muñoz Marín Park, next to the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- In 1995, Puente was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.
- Puente performed at the closing ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The timbales he used there are on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
- In 1997, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
- In 1990 he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. (ref Hollywood Chamber Of Commerce)
- In 1984 he received an honorary Decree from the Los Angeles City Council.
- On June 5, 2005, Puente was honored by Union City, New Jersey with a star on the Walk of Fame at Union City's Celia Cruz Park.
- In 1999, he was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
- On August 20, 2000, East 110th Street in Spanish Harlem was named 'Tito Puente Way'
- 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
- Dance Mania (1958) RCA Victor
- Dancing Under Latin Skies (1959)
- Mucho Cha-Cha (1959)
- Tambo (1960) RCA Victor
- Cha Cha With Tito Puente at Grossinger's (1960) RCA Victor
- El Rey: Bravo (1963) Tico
- 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)
- Herman Meets Puente (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)
With Dizzy Gillespie
With Quincy Jones
- With Hilton Ruiz
With Sonny Stitt
Selected feature films
- Tito Puente: The King of Latin Music (2000)
- Profiles Featuring Tito Puente Jr. (2007)
- Latin Knights (2005)
- Calle 54 (2000)
- Tito Puente - Live in Montreal (Montreal Jazz Festival) (1983) (2003)
Puente appeared in the two part whodunnit drama "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" in the sixth season of American comedy cartoon show, "The Simpsons", during 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 required 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 filmed, the ending of Maggie Simpson shooting Burns was the ending chosen to air.
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- ^ Calle 54; Video Commentary
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