Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 4 January 1923, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, of Cuban and Dominican parentage; d 28 February 1973, NYC) Sonero (improvising Latin singer) and bolero singer, bandleader, percussionist, composer, producer, label boss. Sang and played maracas in Puerto Rico with guitar group Cuarteto Mayari; went to live with his brother Johnny (b 10 October 1912, PR; d there 3 February 1997) in East Harlem, NYC. (Popular vocalist/composer Johnny sang with many bands; relocated to NYC '35; founded own trio '40, toured Latin America with them; moved back to PR '67.) Tito worked with Cuarteto Caney for a few months c'40, Enric Madriguera '41, Xavier Cugat (replacing Miguelito Valdés March '42 as singer/percussionist; CD Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra 1940--42 '91 on Tumbao includes 'Bim Bam Bum', Tito's first recording with Cugat. US Army service was followed by work with Noro Morales (three tracks Tito made for Seeco with Morales '45 included in CD collection Rhumbas And Mambo '93 on Tumbao) and Eddie LaBarron; recruited '46 by José Curbelo (b '28, Havana, Cuba; RCA tracks Tito made with Curbelo '46-7 compiled on Rumba Gallega '94 and Live At The China Doll '95, both on Tumbao). While still with Curbelo, Tito sessioned with Chano Pozo, Arsenio Rodríguez and Machito's Orchestra for Gabriel Oller's Coda label February '47, recordings included on the Tumbao CD Legendary Sessions '92.

Fired by Curbelo '47, Tito briefly led a quintet, then formed own trumpet-led Mambo Devils mid-'48 (one of NYC's first conjuntos) and made eight numbers for Oller's SMC label; he signed with Tico '49 and Oller protested against continued use of the name Mambo Devils, so the group was briefly named Los Lobos del Mambo (Mambo Wolves) before saxes and trombones were added to create a big band (simply called 'his Orchestra'), which he led until '65. Tracks recorded '49-51 from Vols One, Two, Four, Five and Six of his Mambos series of 10-inch LPs on Tico were later compiled on Tumbao CDs Mambo Mona and Mambo Gee Gee, both '92. He switched to RCA '53-6, recorded with big band, conjunto and charanga lineups (three CD compilations The Best Of Tito Rodríguez And His Orchestra reissued '92-4 in RCA Tropical Series); returned to Tico '56-8, LPs included Wa-Pa-Cha '56, Latin Jewels c'57 and Señor Tito Rodríguez '58. He signed with United Artists '60, initial release Live At The Palladium (including Eddie Palmieri on piano) was made at the famed NYC ballroom, where he was resident '49-64 (Returns To The Palladium -- Live! '61, his third UA album, was even better). He was one of the best-loved leaders on the Latin scene, with Tito Puente and Machito one of the kings of the mambo in the '50s. Other UA LPs included West Side Beat, Back Home In Puerto Rico (made in PR, his visit marked by government receptions and media buzz) and Tito Rodríguez' Hits, all '62, respectively yielded his monster trademark hits 'Vuela La Paloma', 'Cuando, Cuando' and 'Cara De Payaso'; also Live At Birdland '63 (featuring Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bobby Brookmeyer, Clark Terry etc); also smoochy bolero LPs with strings including From Tito Rodríguez With Love '63 on UA, with his hit 'Inolvidable' (penned by Cuban bandleader/pianist Julio Gutiérrez, 1919-90), and En Escenario '67 on Musicor. The band was usually anonymous on the record sleeves of the time; the lead track on Big Band Latino '68 (produced by Al Santiago) on Musicor was 'Esta Es Mi Orquesta', on which he introduced band, including Israel 'Cachao' López, percussionist Johnny 'Dandy' Rodríguez, pianist/ arranger René Hernández, saxist/ arranger Ray Santos, saxist Mario Rivera, trumpeter Victor Paz. Cachao's Latin jam session (descarga) influence was reflected on 'Descarga Cachao' on Tito Tito Tito '64 on UA; Charlie and Eddie Palmieri also passed through.

Bad deals and financial friction with musicians caused him to disband; he returned to PR '66; starred in a TV series there, featuring guests like Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett; relocated to Miami late '60s, his albums of that period including swinging Estoy Como Nunca '68 on UA Latino with big-band lineup of four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds and five-piece rhythm section including future Libre leader Manny Oquendo, superb arrangements of the title track and Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe classic 'Bilongo' by Santos. He founded TR Records '71, second release on that label Palladium Memories a best seller; collaborated with Louie Ramírez on follow-up Algo Nuevo '72. 25th Anniversary Performance, made in a Peruvian night club, was released a month before his death, sparking conjecture that he'd meant it as a farewell. His last performance was at Madison Square Garden with Machito, 26 days before he died of leukaemia. He also backed others, e.g. produced and conducted A Latin In America mid-'60s on Musicor for Colombian singer Nelson Pinedo; he sang with La Playa Sextet (led by electric guitarist Payo Alicea, b 25 January 1920, San Juan PR; d March 1995), tracks compiled on Tito Dice ... Separala Tambien! c'71. He made about 50 LPs for Tico, RCA, Decca, UA, Musicor, TR, mostly on UA and Musicor.