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Ruben Gonzalez Dies

Ruben Gonzalez, a Cuban pianist who gained fame as a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, died Monday in Havana of an undisclosed cause. He was 84.

Despite possessing piano chops that could light a fire under any band he played in, Gonzalez, like many of his Cuban musician contemporaries, didn’t find fame-or even record as a leader-until old age. After performing in Cuba for most of his life, trouble with arthritis had in fact seen Gonzalez retire from music in the mid-1980s, when he was about 65. But Gonzalez came out of retirement in 1996 in order to play on the Afro-Cuban All-Stars album A Todo Cuba Le Gusta, and that album helped spark a worldwide interest in Cuban music that would give he and his fellow Cuban musicians the recognition they deserved. The music received further widespread attention in 1997 as a result of the hugely successful, Ry Cooder-produced album Buena Vista Social Club, which featured a crack band of Afro-Cuban musicians that included Gonzalez. Shortly after the success of the Social Club album and its corresponding documentary film, Gonzalez, then 78, signed to Cooder’s World Circuit label and recorded his debut leader album, Introducing Ruben Gonzalez. Gonzalez recorded a few more leader albums and played on records by Social Club pals like vocalists Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuonda, but he wasn’t very active in the studio after 2001.

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