Dreaming About Tito Puente’s Drums, an Interview with Author Josephine Powell

World Music Central recently interviewed Josephine Powell, the author of the book Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming. Powell is a Cuban music historian, and a lecturer/consultant on ballroom music and dancing, as well as in Latin American music. She was a consultant on the motion pictures "Salsa," "Havana" and the "The Mambo Kings," whose soundtrack received a Grammy nomination.

Why did you think it was necessary to write this book about Tito Puente?

A book about the life of Tito Puente is one of the most important projects that the community of Latin music can attain. He was an iconic bandleader, an arranger, a composer, a master of all instruments, and above all, the timbale. He drummed like no other, and in our lifetime we are fortunate to have felt his talent, even though there is no other to follow him.

We met in 1957 when I was a teenager. I became his dance partner, his friend, his creative developer and confidant through the years.

What did you learn about Tito Puente that was new to you?

What I learned about Tito that was new to me was his tremendous popularity globally. He always told me he was bigger in Europe than he was in the US. I found that to be true. The European festivals he performed and headlined at every summer were attended by as many as 15,000.

How important is Tito Puente in American music?

Tito Puente‘s name will go down the annals of music as one of the most influential musicians in the last century according to the New York Post in a list published during late 1999. He cleared the path for other Latino performers, among them, Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefen, La India, Marc Anthony, Hector Lavoe, Jennifer Lopez, and actors Andy Garcia, Antonio Banderas, and Jimmy Smits among others.

How did Tito’s music evolve through time?

Because of Tito’s creativity, personality and longevity he was able to record over 135 CDs, perform regularly at famous venues and television shows, among them Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman and he received the honor of having his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, (which I obtained for him). President Clinton honored him with a Congressional Gold Medal in 2000 just prior to his demise.

How difficult was it to research information about Tito Puente‘s past?

Researching Tito was easy since I knew him so well and knew his friends and associates.

Can you name some of the persons you interviewed to collect information about Tito Puente?

Among the 100 odd persons I interviewed were, musicians, dancers, performers, movie personalities such as Olga San Juan, and Tony Martinez. Others were from Havana where I traveled for research while interviewing numerous composers and singers he associated with prior to the Cuban revolution. Today many are members of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Who was the best source of information?

The best source of information were myself, his agents, bookers, fellow musicians, managers, recording artists, WW II crew members, and his family.

Will there be a Spanish language version?

I’m planning to have the book translated into the Spanish language.

What other projects are you working on?

I do have another project in the works. It’s another Latino personality which I’m keeping under wraps. I promise you it will be a fascinating book.

Buy Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming.

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