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Bebo Valdés, Cuban Music Giant, is Dead at 94

Trailblazer’s career was revived in ’90s after a three-decade layoff

Bebo Valdés
Bebo and Chucho Valdes

Bebo Valdés, a pioneering Cuban pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer who was instrumental in wedding traditional Afro-Cuban dance rhythms with the improvisational freedom of American jazz, died yesterday (March 23) in Stockholm due to pneumonia. A multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner, Valdés, who spent his last years living in Benalmádena, Spain, also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 94.

Ramón Emilio “Bebo” Valdés Amaro was born Oct. 9, 1918 in Quivicán, a village outside of Havana. His interest in music began at age 7 and he studied both European classical and Cuban music at Havana’s Municipal Conservatory. His earliest performances were in the native rumba style but his exposure to jazz in the 1930s altered the course of his music as he adopted the African-rooted rhythms and the swing of the American big bands to his own playing and arranging. Valdés is credited with developing the batanga rhythm.

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