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‘Father of Boogaloo’ Joe Cuba Dies at 78

Joe Cuba, the salsa bandleader known as the “Father of Boogaloo,” died Feb. 15 in New York City from complications of a bacterial infection. Cuba, who reached the pop charts twice in 1966 and ’67, with “Bang Bang” and “Oh Yeah!,” was 78.

Born Gilberto Miguel Calderón in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, of Puerto Rican descent, Cuba took up the conga drums after a broken leg during his childhood kept him from participating in sports. He continued to play after the leg healed, and joined his first band after graduating high school. During college, after being encouraged by Latin bandleader Tito Puente, he played for J. Panama and La Alfarona X, then formed his own band, first called the Jose Calderón Sextet and then the Joe Cuba Sextet.

With vocals sung in both English and Spanish, the Joe Cuba Sextet gained popularity in New York’s Latino community. The 1966 single “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia),” on the Tico label and based on a Dizzy Gillespie riff, made the Billboard R&B chart at number 44. The followup, “Bang Bang,” began receiving mainstream radio airplay and crossed over to the pop charts. “Oh Yeah!” followed. The band’s style was dubbed boogaloo and Cuba has long been considered one of its architects. Other singles released by the band during these years included “Push Push,” “El Pito,” “Ariñañara,” and “Sock It To Me Baby.”

Cuba, who recorded dozens of albums between the ’60s and the current decade, was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1999.

Watch a video of the Joe Cuba Sextet performing “Bang Bang.”

Originally Published