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Let’s Mambo

For me, when I hear about the dance the mambo I always visualize Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray doing the mambo in the movie “Dirty Dancing”. Well, guess what? There actually has been in this world a guy who was honored with the title of King of Mambo. You know with so many kings both royal and rock and roll and otherwise up there in heaven I sometimes wonder if they have their own kingdom up there.

So by now, I guess you are wondering who in the world was the King of Mambo. Well, his name was Tito Puente. He was a bandleader and percussionist and the one in the U.S. to popularize Latin dance music and jazz. Puente was born on April 20, 1923, in New York City. His career spanned six decades and he got the nickname of “El Rey” or The King. During this time he recorded more than 100 albums and won five Grammy Awards.

He grew up in Spanish Harlem in Manhattan and in the late 1940s formed his own group which later became known as the Tito Puente Orchestra. His career really took off in the 1950s and people in all of New York City’s nightclubs and ballrooms enjoyed dancing to his music. It was at this time that he became known as King of Mambo. In 1992 he played himself in the movie “The Mambo Kings” based on the novel “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” by Oscar Hijuelos. Puente recorded the album Dance Mania in 1958 and it became an international bestseller. He recorded “Oye Como Va” in 1963 and in the 1970s this song became a great hit for rock guitarist Carlos Santana.

During his lifetime Puente usually gave several hundred performances each year and kept right on performing until he died on May 31, 2000, during heart surgery at the age of 77. At his wake in Manhattan, fans waited in line for hours to give him the last honors. The Puerto Rican government declared three days of official mourning.

Shall we mambo?


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