Joe Cuba: Father of NY Boogaloo Dies

Tuesday February 17, 2009
Joe Cuba, one of the seminal Nuyorican artists of the 1960s/1970s, died Sunday, Feb. 15 in New York from a persistent staph bacteria infection that Cuba contracted while being treated for asthma a few years ago. He was 78.Gilberto Calderon was born in New York in 1931 to Puerto Rican parents, learning to play conga when he was in high school. He formed the Jose Calderon Sextet in the early 1950s; in 1954 his agent suggested he change his name to Joe Cuba and the Joe Cuba Sextet was born.

The Joe Cuba Sextet was different in several ways: it was a small group in a time when salsa was more often played by larger orchestras, it used the vibraphone where other groups were leading with brass and the music was a fusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and popular contemporary genres and styles.

As boogaloo became popular – music that is a mixture of mambo, son montuno and the R&B and soul coming out of Motown and sung primarily in English – Cuba had his first big crossover hit in 1965 with “El Pito” (I Never Go Back To Georgia) while in 1967 “Bang, Bang”, co-written by the sextet’s vocalist Jimmy Sabater, beame the hit song that ushered in the Boogaloo Era.

Joe Cuba continued touring and performing until recently. He was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2004 was the Grand Marshall of New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Luckily for the many Joe Cuba fans, Joe Cuba Sextet albums recorded for Fania have recently been rereleased by EMusica so that, while we’ve lost a treasured artist, his music remains with us.