Ernesto Antonio "Tito" Puente (April 20, 1923 – May 31, 2000) was an American musician, songwriter and record producer. The son of Ernest and Felicia 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".
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.
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.
Puente's timbales in the Tito Puente exhibit in the Artist Gallery of the Musical Instrument Museum of Phoenix
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.
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.
Tito Puente – Live in Montreal (Montreal Jazz Festival) (1983) (2003)
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 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.