Bilboard – With his unmatched prowess on timbales and cheerful pan-Latin rhythms, Tito Puente rewrote the Latin pop playbook for half of the 20th century. Earning the nickname the King of Latin Music, the multi-hyphenate musician put Caribbean styles — like mambo, salsa, boogaloo, cha-cha-cha, rumba, guaracha and Afro-Cuban jazz — on the global map. His upbeat tropical compositions have endured well beyond their years.
In celebration of Latin/Hispanic Heritage Month, Google commemorates Puente in today’s charming new Doodle video, created by New York-based Puerto Rican illustrator Carlos Aponte. “Tito was part of my musical experience growing up in Puerto Rico. My aunt introduced me to Tito Puente via La Lupe, a famous singer in Puerto Rico and New York,” says the illustrator. “Tito was like a Svengali for talents like Celia Cruz. He was a household name. So Tito was part of my Puerto Rican soundtrack.”
Featuring the lively “Ran Kan Kan,” the animated clip takes viewers back to Puente’s childhood at 110th Street and Third Avenue in Spanish Harlem, where the budding artist bangs on pots and pans in his room bedecked with a Puerto Rican flag. It follows Puente’s various stints as a musician, showing him as a Navy ship’s bandleader (he served during World War II) up to him ruling over New York City nightlife as the undisputed King of the Timbales.
The Google Doodle also celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Tito Puente Monument, which was unveiled in his hometown of East Harlem, New York, on this day (Oct. 10), located on the northern end of Central Park. In 2000, the same year the musical legend died, 110th Street was renamed Tito Puente Way.
Born Ernesto Antonio Puente Jr. on April 20, 1923, in Spanish Harlem to Puerto Rican parents, the young Nuyorican musician grew up surrounded by the rich Latin diversity the city is known for. He led his first orchestra in the late ‘40s, and by the 1950s, he became an unrivaled master of timbales and vibraphone. In 1969, he was bestowed the key to New York City.
In his lifetime, he released an immense discography that includes more than 100 full-length albums that showcased his propulsive dance rhythms and jubilant brass melodies. He penned timeless hits such as “Oye Como Va,” which was famously covered by Santana, “Mambo Gozón” (1958), “La Guarachera” (1966) with Celia Cruz, and many more. In the late ‘60s, Tito Puente joined New York’s maverick troupe Fania All-Stars, also starring Eddie Palmeri, Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz.
His journey began with “Ran Kan Kan,” his first recorded track, which is featured in the Google Doodle. In 1992, “Ran Kan Kan” entered the top 10 of Billboard‘s Dance Club Songs chart. In 2010, “Guantanamera” by Celia Cruz, featuring Puente, landed at No. 2 on the World Digital Song Sales chart. In 1995, Puente was given the Billboard Latin Music Lifetime Achievement Award.
Last year, Google Doodles honored Latin culture independence days, celebrating Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico. Another Doodle celebrated a Chilean holiday with a drawing of a huemul, represented on the country’s national shield.
Illustrator Aponte has also provided artwork for the Latin Recording Academy, The New Yorker and The New York Times. He currently teaches drawing at the Fashion Institute of Technology. With his Doodle, he hopes people will take away this message: “Love what you do, train, study, and be the best you can be. If you excel, everything else will fall into place. There are no shortcuts. Those who make it easily don’t last long. Tito was a perfect example; he was the best!”
Go behind-the-scenes of today’s Doodle below!
In honor of U.S. Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the life and legacy of American “Nuyorican” musician and internationally-renowned entertainer, Tito Puente. Today’s animated video Doodle is illustrated by New York-based Puerto Rican artist, Carlos Aponte. A multi-talented artist of Puerto Rican descent, Puente was a percussionist, composer, songwriter, recording artist, and bandleader. With a career spanning five decades, he is often referred to as “El Rey de los Timbales” and “The King of Latin music.” On this day in 2021, the Tito Puente Monument was unveiled in East Harlem, New York City.
Puente was born on April 20, 1923 at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City’s Spanish Harlem. He was surrounded by Puerto Rican, Cuban, and big band music growing up, and showed significant musical talent from an early age. He started his career as a drummer in his early teens and found his big break playing for Federico Pagani’s Happy Boys and Machito’s Orchestra. He served in the Navy during World War II, playing alto saxophone as the ship’s bandleader—along with over ten other instruments. He continued his studies at the Juilliard School of Music after the war.
He started his own band, the Tito Puente Orchestra, in 1948 and quickly earned a reputation for his performances that encouraged audiences to get on the dance floor. Puente was known for his awe-inspiring skills on the timbales (or timpani/kettledrums), as well as for the way he combined big band instrumentation and jazz harmonies with Afro-Cuban music. He recorded an astounding 118+ albums and is credited on dozens more—more than any other timbales bandleader to date. This journey began with Ran Kan Kan, his first professional track recording and the soundtrack of today’s Doodle.
Beyond the mambo movement, Puente experimented across other genres of Latin music such as the Boogaloo, Pachanga, and eventually Salsa. He was considered a musical pioneer for his creativity and experimentation, and is widely credited for popularizing Latin music in the United States. In 1969, he was awarded the key to New York City.
Besides the musical merits he received throughout his career, Puente was also deeply dedicated to creating opportunities for the Latin community. In 1979, he introduced a scholarship fund that supported promising, young Latin percussionists for over 20 years.
Puente’s success, presence, and musicality is widely known and respected to this day. After his passing, many waited in line for days to say their goodbyes. He was posthumously recognized at the first-ever Latin Grammy Awards, and the Harlem street where he grew up — E. 110th Street — was renamed Tito Puente Way to honor his life and legacy.
“…Goza con los timbales…” Here’s to you, Tito!