Ray Barretto

rbarretto2.jpgRay Barretto a.k.a. King of the Hard Hands (April 29, 1929 – February 17, 2006), was a Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican jazz musician, widely credited as the godfather of Latin jazz. He was also the first Hispanic to record a Latin song which became a “hit” in the American Billboard Charts.

Barretto was born in New York City of Puerto Rican descent. His parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico in the early 1920s, looking for a better life. He was raised in Spanish Harlem and at a very young age was influenced by his mother’s love of music and by the jazz music of musicians such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

In 1946, when Barretto was 17 years old, he joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Barretto met Fats Sadi, who was working there. However, it was when he heard Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” with Cuban percussionist, Chano Pozo, that he realized his true calling in life.rbarretto3.jpg

In 1949, when Barretto returned home from military service, he started to visit clubs and participated in jam sessions, where he perfected his conga playing. On one occasion Charlie Parker heard Barretto play and invited him to play in his band. Later, he was asked to play for Jose Curbelo and Tito Puente, for whom he played for four years. Barretto developed a unique style of playing the conga and soon he was sought by other jazz band leaders. Latin percussionists started to appear in jazz groups with frequency as a consequence of Barretto’s musical influence.

In 1960, Barretto was a house musician for the Prestige, Blue Note, and Riverside labels. New York had become the center of Latin music in the United States and a style called “Charanga” was the Latin music craze of the time.

In 1961, Barretto recorded his first hit, “El Watusi”, the first Latin song to enter the Billboard charts. He was quite successful with the song and the genre. In 1967, he joined the Fania record label where he recorded “Acid”, an experiment joining rhythm and blues with Latin music. Just as his salsa group attained a remarkable following most of its members left it to form Tipica 73, a multinational salsa conglomerate. This left Barretto depressed and disappointed with salsa; he then redirected his efforts into Latin jazz, while remaining as musical director of the Fania All Stars. Barretto’s 1968 album Acid contained the song “Deeper Shade of Soul”, which was sampled for the 1991 US (#21) hit of the same name by Dutch band Urban Dance Squad.

rbarretto4.jpgBarretto played the conga in recording sessions for the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees. In 1975 he was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song “Barretto”. From 1976 to 1978, Barretto recorded three records for Atlantic Records, including “La Cuna”, and was nominated for a Grammy for “Barretto Live…Tomorrow”. In 1979, he produced a salsa record for Fania, titled “Ricanstruction”, which was named 1980 “Best Album” by Latin N.Y. Magazine, with Barretto crowned as Conga Player of the Year.

In 1990, Barretto finally won a Grammy for the album “Ritmo en el Corazon” (Rhythm in the Heart), which featured the vocals of Celia Cruz. In 1999, Barretto was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.

Barretto lived in New York and was an active musical producer, as well as the leader of a touring band which has embarked in tours of the United States, Europe, Israel and Latin America.