Tito Puente: The Early RCA Years 1954-1960 #hispanicheritagemonth

Dedicating this to the memory of Ronald “Baby Boy” Smith’s father, Edward Clifford Smith, who was half Black, half Mexican and just like our featured artist, a World War 2 U.S. Navy veteran.

Ernesto Antonio Puente, better known to his millions of fans as “Tito”, was born in Spanish Harlem in New York City, the son of native Puerto Ricans. He was known by many titles, but the one most associated with him is “El Rey”, or “The King”.

During the 1950’s, in the pre-Rock and Roll era, popular music was often the realm of adults, not teeneagers. During this period, the initial wave of Latin music hit stateside, with the genres of Mambo and Exocita often sitting in record collections of adults next to Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. It was during this wave that major U.S. record companies decided to capitalize on this craze, with Capitol and RCA being chief among labels that featured this type of World Music before that phrase had come into common parlance.

Adding to this popularity was that in Cuba, just 90 miles south of Florida, the city of Havana was a very hot tourist destination in the years after World War 2 and before Fidel Castro had come into power. It was much like Las Vegas was during this period as well: cheap hotels, warm weather year-round, casinos and loads of entertainment. Upon returning to the States, tourists would often seek out the sounds they heard on the island, and Tito Puente, whose versatile style included all types of Latin music and even Jazz, was often an easy to find artist that people loved.

Circa 1955: Full-length image of American bandleader and Latin jazz musician Tito Puente (1923 – 2000) playing percussion during a performance. (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images)

Of course, it would be easy to say that tourists would purchase anything to help them relive their experiences on the island, even if it was of sub-par quality or by a white artist cashing in on the craze, which invariably happened. However, Puente was no slouch at anything, and his recordings during this period, where he went from being an indie artist on Tico Records to a major label jump into the big leagues on RCA, prove time and time again he literally was in a league of his own.

These tracks laid the foundation for an over 50 year career that saw his title undisputed that had him initially performing in clubs to eventually stadium-sized audiences years later.

Tracklist for this program: Title, Year, Album Source

First Part

  • Cuando Te Vea, 1958, Dance Mania
  • Ran Kan Kan, 1954, On Broadway
  • Ti Mon Bo, 1958, Top Percussion
  • Dance of the Headhunters, 1960, Tambo
  • How High The Moon (live), 1960, Cha Cha With Tito Puente At Grossinger’s
  • El Bajo, 1959, Mucho Cha Cha
  • Brazil, 1959, Dancing Under Latin Skies
  • Whatever Lola Wants, 1957, Be Mine Tonight (Abbe Lane with Tito Puente and His Orchestra)

Second Part

  • Night Ritual, 1957, Night Beat
  • Guaririambo, 1957, Let’s Cha Cha With Tito Puente And His Orchestra
  • Cuál Es La Idea (What’s The Idea), 1956, Cuban Carnival
  • Lotus Land, 1956, Puente Goes Jazz
  • La Ola Marina, 1957, Mucho Puente
  • Four By Two, Part 1, 1958, Top Percussion


  • Havana After Dark (original mono mix), 1956, Dave Garroway Presents The Wide, Wide World Of Jazz
To download this program, please click on the three dots at the very right of the audio player.

Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner

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