We continue remembering artists we lost in 2016 and who contributed greatly to salsa and Afro-Cuban music. They—and others—are now up in that great rumbón in the sky.
(June 3, 1937–April 16, 2016)
Ismael Quintana was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but was raised in the Bronx. He had an iconic voice that informed the salsa sound of the 60s and 70s. And he started as a youngster when he formed a band with some buddies.
Soon he hooked up with Eddie Palmieri, who invited him to be the lead singer of his new conjunto, La Perfecta, in 1961. With Palmieri he co-wrote hit after hit, leaving a treasure trove of music that he would only add to as a soloist. He became an integral part of the Fania All-Stars and toured all over the world with them.
Among songs we love by Quintana are “Adoración,” “Muñeca,” “Mi debilidad” and personal favorites “Kum kum kum” and “Camina María que me fascina.”
Following a successful career, he retired to Colorado where he died due to heart failure at the age of 78.
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros
(April 4, 1928–January 6, 2016)
When Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros passed away early in 2016, we lost a link to the greatest influences of Afro-Cuban music. He was a musician who tied the old to the new and visa versa. He was a trumpeter whose unique playing was a signature sound on countless recordings. And the list of people he worked with throughout his career is a true who’s-who list: Arsenio Rodríguez, Machito, José Fajardo, the Palmieri brothers, Beny Moré, Noro Morales, Mongo Santamaría, Sonora Matancera, etc., etc.
A bit of a flirt—he was married eight times—he did proclaim his true love to be his trumpet. Chocolate died at the age of 87 due to prostate cancer in a nursing home in Mohegan Lake, New York.
Enrique “Quique” Lucca Caraballo
(December 12, 1912–October 9, 2016)
Who would ever have guessed that a taxi driver would found one of the most legendary salsa groups. But that’s exactly what Quique Lucca did in 1954 when he created Sonora Ponceña. This band would become not only an institution in Puerto Rico but around the salsa world.
The band’s sound is distinct and sophisticated and has led to one hit recording after another, not to mention one hit tune after another.
Quique Lucca’s talent was in identifying talented musicians and singers, including his son, Papo Lucca, who began rehearsing with the band when he was only 5. Quique Lucca would eventually give leadership of the band to his son.
After a fall—and several heart attacks—Quique Lucca died at the venerable age of 103 in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
(August 9, 1954–June 2, 2015)
It would be hard to find a musician and bandleader who left more of an impact on the salsa scene in Los Angeles than Johnny Polanco. Polanco was an institution. He was a master instrumentalist, composer, arranger and overall good guy. His generosity was legendary, and rarely would he turn down a good cause to lend his efforts to.
Perhaps that’s why his group, formed in 1993, was called Conjunto Amistad—the Friendship Band. Among their recordings are L.A. Amistad and Pa’l Bailador.
But his renown wasn’t limited to Southern California. He worked with the top names of salsa and toured the world. Two of his favorite guest vocalists were Ray Ramos and Ray de la Paz. And he was a champion of flutist Artie Webb.
Polanco was born in the South Bronx and was a proud Marine. He was 60 years old when he unexpectedly passed away.
(1960–June 12, 2016)
When an old-timer passes, you are consoled by the fact that they enjoyed a long life of artist expression. That’s why it is so sad when a younger talent passes. Is it selfish to say we feel cheated?
Lugo was a much-respected Puerto Rican pianist and bandleader who died at the age of 56. He had worked with an endless list of top artists in the industry. He was considered a top arranger and producer. In fact, he was an eight-time Grammy winner. He formed his group, Guasábara, that went on to record four albums that are must-haves. They include Piano con mata, Guasábara, Poetic Justice and Dónde están.
Lugo died after a long fight with cancer.
Unfortunately, the list of artists who passed in 2016 is longer. Here are others we lost: Alfredo Valdés, Jr. (May 31, 1941–January 23, 2016), pianist, arranger and composer; Ronnie Baró (1956–July 1, 2016), singer and composer, best known for his work with Orquesta Broadway and Africando; and Gustavo Quintero (December 23, 1939–December 18, 2016), singer, songwriter and leader of Los Graduados. May these—and others not noted—rest in peace.