TITO PUENTE
     
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MY FRIEND TITO PUENTE

TITO WAS BORN APRIL 20, 1923 SHORTLY AFTER HIS PARENTS ARRIVED FROM PUERTO RICO IN A SECTION OF MANHATTAN KNOWN TO NEW YORK LATINOS AS EL BARRIO AND ALSO KNOWN AS SPANISH HARLEM. AS A YOUNG BOY TITO TOOK DANCE LESSONS. HE WANTED TO BECOME A DANCER. BY THE AGE OF SEVEN HE WAS TAKING PIANO LESSONS AND SOON AFTER STARTED TAKING DRUM LESSONS. BY THE AGE OF THIRTEEN HE WAS ALREADY PLAYING WITH THE POPULAR BANDS OF THE DAY. IN EL BARRIO, TITO WAS CONSIDERED A CHILD PRODIGY.
TITO WAS SIXTEEN YEARS OLD WHEN HE STARTED PLAYING WITH THE JOSE CURBELO ORCHESTRA. IN THE EARLY FORTIES TITO ALSO PLAYED WITH MACHITO, NORO MORALES AND PUPI CAMPO. IN 1942 TITO JOINED THE NAVY AND DID MUCH OF THE BANDS ARRANGEMENTS WHILE IN THE NAVY. TITO WAS HONORABLY DISCHARGED FROM THE NAVY IN 1945 AFTER HAVING FOUGHT NINE BATTLES, RECEIVING A PRESIDENTIAL COMMENDATION AND ALSO RECEIVING THE BRONZE MEDAL OF HONOR.
>TITO PURSUED A FORMAL MUSIC EDUCATION AT THE PRESTIGIOUS JULLIARD SCHOOL OF MUSIC UNDER THE G.I. BILL AND WAS IMMEDIATELY SOUGHT AFTER BY OTHER MUSICIANS. HE ARRANGED FOR MANY OF THE POPULAR BANDS INCLUDING JOSE CURBELO'S AND MARCELINO GUERRA'S. IN TIME TITO WAS ABLE TO ESTABLISH A SCHOLARSHIP FUND FOR BUDDING MUSICIANS AT JULLIARD.


IN OCTOBER OF 1996 THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM
IN WASHINGTON C.D. PRESENTED TITO WITH THE MEDAL OF HONOR AND A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. AT THIS CEREMONY TITO DONATED THE TIMBALES THAT HE USED AT THE 1996 SUMMER OLYMPICS TO BE DISPLAYED WITH THEIR COLLECTION OF CULTURAL HISTORY. IN SEPTEMBER OF 1997 PUENTE WAS AWARDED A MEDAL BY THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT OF THE ARTS. THE CEREMONY WAS HELD AT THE WHITE HOUSE WHERE PRESIDENT CLINTON AND FIRST LADY HILARY PRESENTED HIM WITH THIS PRESTEGIOUS AWARD. TITO HAD THE HONOR OF PERFORMING FOR SEVERAL PRESIDENTS; CLINTON, BUSH, CARTER AND REAGAN AND ALSO PERFORMED AT GEORGE W. BUSH'S INAUGURATION

FOR FOURTEEN YEARS TITO PERFORMED REGULARLY AT THE PALLADIUM BALLROOM ON 53RD STREET AND BROADWAY KNOWN AS THE HOME OF THE MAMBO. JUST UP THE STREET WAS BIRDLAND, JAZZ CAPITOL OF THE WORLD. THERE YOU'D FIND SUCH GREATS AS CHARLIE PARKER, DIZZY GILLESPI AND STAN KENTON. THESE ARTIST WOULD FINISH A SET AND HEAD ON DOWN TO THE PALLADIUM TO CATCH THE TWO TITO'S AND MACHITO. LIKEWISE, THE LATIN MUSICIANS WOULD CHECK OUT THE JAZZ MUSICIANS IN BIRDLAND WHEN THEY GOT A CHANCE. JAZZ MUSICIANS STARTED INCORPORATING LATIN SOUNDS IN THEIR REPERTOIRE. TITO, WHO ALWAYS HAD ONE EAR IN THE JAZZ WORLD AND THE OTHER IN THE ISLANDS OF PUERTO RICO AND CUBA EMBELLISHED JAZZ BY INCORPORATING HIS OWN PERCUSSIVE SOUNDS AND FITTING EVERYTHING NEATLY INTO A CLAVE PATTERN.

MANY THINGS HAVE BEEN SAID AND WRITTEN ABOUT TITO PUENTE BUT I KNEW HIM WELL. TITO PUENTE WAS ONE OF THE NICEST HUMAN BEINGS I EVER KNEW.

RAE ARROYO AND TITO PUENTE

WHEN TITO RECEIVED HIS STAR ON THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME