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Cuban Guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales Dies at 75

Irakere co-founder was also a prolific sideman

Carlos Emilio Morales

Guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, a co-founder of the famed Cuban band Irakere, which won a Best Latin Recording Grammy in 1980, died Nov. 12 at age 75, in Havana. The cause of death was not reported.

Morales was born in Marianao, Cuba, on Nov. 6, 1939. He studied classical guitar beginning at age 12, influenced by Mexican and Latin guitarists and, later, pioneering jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery. Nicknamed “El Gordo,” Morales attended medical school but as he found work playing music in the late 1950s he turned professional, joining the Teatro Musical de La Habana, where he worked with classical guitarist Leo Brouwer.

By 1967 Morales had co-founded the 18-piece Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, which also included future jazz stars Chucho Valdés, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval and Carlos Averhoff. Together these musicians founded Irakere in 1973; Morales recorded and toured with the group as well as maintaining a career as a sideman. Although he never recorded a solo album, Morales collaborated at various times with Dizzy Gillespie, Bebo Valdés, Chucho Valdés, Michel Legrand, Chick Corea, Ronnie Scott and Josephine Baker. He also taught master classes at Escuela de Superación Profesional.

In an email, D’Rivera stated, “‘El Gordo’s unique style of playing has influenced not only other guitarists, but also many other instrumentalists of various generations of Cuban musicians. A most beloved friend among his peers, it’s amazing how such a timid and humble man that he was could have such a tremendous impact on our lives as musicians.”

Originally Published