Tito Puente (April 20, 1923 - May 31, 2000) was an influential Latin jazz and mambo musician. Born under the name Ernesto Antonio Puente Jr., the Puerto Rican native of Spanish Harlem in New York City is often credited as "El Rey" (the King) of the timbales, "The Mambo King," and "The King of Latin Music". He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and latin jazz compositions that helped keep his career going for some fifty years.
He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings. He guest starred on several television shows including The Cosby Show and The Simpsons.
Puente served in the Navy for three years during World War II after being drafted in 1942. He was discharged with a Presidential Commendation for serving in nine battles. The GI Bill allowed him to study music at Julliard School of Music, where he completed a formal education in conducting, orchestration and theory. In 1969, he received the key to the City of New York from former Mayor John Lindsay. In 1992 he was inducted into the National Congressional Record, and in 1993 he received the Smithsonian Medal.
During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his mass popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, like mambo, son, and cha-cha-cha, to mainstream audiences. Later, he moved into still more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres that became known as "salsa". In 1979 Puente won the first of six Grammy Awards for the albums A Tribute to Benny MorÃ©, On Broadway, Mambo Diablo and Goza Mi Timbal. In 1990, Puente was awarded the "James Smithson Bicentennial Medal". He was also awarded a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards, winning Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland.
He died May 31, 2000 after a heart attack following a show in Puerto Rico.
Both SUNY Old Westbury and Hunter College awarded Puente with honorary doctorates of arts & sciences for his work in music and in helping young artists through the Tito Puente Scholarship fund.
His granddaughter, Audrey Puente, is a meteorologist with WCBS-TV. His son, Tito Puente Jr. continues his father's legacy as a popular percussionist.
He was a godfather to Sheila E