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Percussionist Ray Barretto Dies

Percussionist and bandleader Ray Barretto died this morning at the Hackenstack University Medical Center in Hackenstack, N.J. at age 76. He had undergone heart bypass surgery in January and had since suffered from pneumonia.

Barretto is credited with bringing the conga into jazz and was recognized for his work with a 1989 Grammy for the song “Ritmo en el Corazon” with Celia Cruz. He was also inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame the following year and became a 2006 NEA Jazz Master.

Born April 29, 1929 in Brooklyn, Barretto began playing the congas while stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. When he returned to New York, he began playing with jazz bands and eventually replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band in the late 1950s. Barretto remained in the band four years before making his debut as leader in 1962 for Riverside. The following year, he scored a crossover hit with “El Watusi,” but it wasn’t until the mid-’60s before he made a name for himself as a session player. He recorded albums with Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Burrell, Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie and Wes Montgomery, among others, and then moved to the Fania label in 1967.

While on Fania, he became music director of the Fania All-Stars, but he also recorded for Atlantic and CTI, who released the acclaimed La Cuna in 1979 with Puente, Joe Farrell and Charlie Palmieri. That same year, Barretto also released the acclaimed Rican/Struction on Fania.

Barretto later became director of the Bravisimo television program and took part in the all-star anti-apartheid Sun City recording and video in 1985. He continued to record and released several albums with Concord Picante, as well as releasing albums for Blue Note, Sunnyside, RCA and Polygram. His most recent album was 2005’s Time Was – Time Is on O+.

Originally Published