NYC salsa band leader Joe Cuba dies at 78
By Laura N. Perez Sanchez, Associated Press Writer
SAN JUAN — Salsa band leader Joe Cuba, dubbed the "Father of Latin Boogaloo" for weaving a fluid, bilingual mix of musical influences, died Sunday in New York City, a member of his group said. He was 78.
The musician, a friend and contemporary of the late salsa giant Tito Puente, died from complications of a persistent bacterial infection at Mount Sinai Medical Center a day after doctors disconnected his life support, said Cheo Feliciano, a longtime friend and singer in the Joe Cuba Sextet. Cuba had fought the infection for several years.
Born Gilberto Calderon in 1931 in New York to a family from Puerto Rico, the band leader and conga player helped change the sound of salsa in the 1960s, Feliciano said.
Until then, most popular salsa had been played by orchestras, he said. But Cuba led a six-member band with three singers who also played percussion and danced a routine.
"He had a dynamic group," with a signature vibraphone-fronted sound that "caused a craze because it was different," Feliciano said. Albums such as 1966's Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push incorporated elements of salsa, Latin jazz and R&B and featured lyrics in both English and Spanish.
Cuba, whose musical career took him on world tours, was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and became director of the International Salsa Museum in New York's East Harlem.
In his 70s, he was confined to a sick bed for three years after contracting a staph bacterial infection while being treated for asthma at a hospital. After care in hospitals, a nursing home and at his New York home, he resumed performing in 2006.
Feliciano said he spoke to Cuba by telephone from Puerto Rico just before Cuba died.
"I told him that God has a mission for all of us, and when we've come to the end of the mission, we have to go to the place we came from," said Feliciano, who debuted as a singer in the sextet in 1957.
The band leader's remains are expected to be interred in Puerto Rico.