Popular Congolese singer Papa Wemba died April 24, 2016 after collapsing on stage during a performance in Ivory Coast.
Papa Wemba was born Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Kazai, in the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic Congo). From humble village beginnings in the interior of his vast, Central African homeland, Shungu Wembadio moved to the capital city of Kinshasa when he was still a boy. There, the fledgling singer rose quickly to stardom in a series of ground breaking bands.
Famous for his flamboyant sense of style and emotional Lingala vocals, Papa Wemba was the ambassador of a truly global African music. Originally part of the adventurous Kinshasa music scene, Wemba departed for Paris in 1986, starting an international chapter in his career.
In 1996, Wemba joined Youssou N’Dour and other leading African musicians on an epic consciousness-raising journey through war-torn Africa, sponsored by the International Red Cross, and released the single “So Why?” to raise profits for the war victims.
Papa Wemba released 3 albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label: ‘Le Voyageur‘ (1992), ‘Emotion‘ (1995) and ‘Molokai‘ (1998), a live studio recording of classic hits and new songs. Also he appeared on the compilations ‘Voices of the Real World’ and ‘Spirit of Africa’ as well as the ‘Big Blue Ball‘ album project.
Puerto Rican salsa singer and composer Ismael Quintana passed away on April 16, 2016 in Colorado. Ismael Quintana was the lead singer of Eddie Palmieri’s famed band called conjunto “La Perfecta.”
Quintana was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His family moved to The Bronx borough of New York City when he was only two weeks old. In New York he went to school and while he was still in high school he formed a band with his neighborhood friends.
In 1961, pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri invited Quintana to join “La Perfecta” as lead singer. During the 1960s, Quintana co-wrote some of Palmieri’s major hit songs.
In 1971, Quintana left Palmieri’s band and started a solo career. Between 1974 and 1983, he recorded five albums as a solo artist and a hit song titled “Mi Debilidad” (My Weakness). His solo albums include “Punto y Aparte” (1971); “Dos Imágenes” (1972); “Ismael Quintana” (1974); “Lo Que Estoy Viviendo” (1976); and “Amor, Vida y Sentimiento” (1977).
In addition to “Mi Debilidad”, some of quintana’s most popular songs include “Adoración”, “Muñeca”, “Maestro de rumbero”, and “Puerto Rico.”
Throughout the past decades, Quintana performed and recorded with salsa super band Fania All Stars.
Quintana partially retired from the music world because of health reasons.
Acclaimed country music singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddler Merle Haggard passed away April 6, 2016. The Recording Academy’s CEO, Neil Portnow, released the following statement: “Two-time GRAMMY Award winner and 2006 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Merle Haggard was an uncommon hero in country music. An exceptional multi-talented singer-songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler, Merle’s massive success was rooted in his masterful ability to celebrate the outlaws and the underdogs.
Merle’s extraordinary talent resulted in more than 30 No. 1 country hits and his remarkable performances will forever live on and inspire music creators worldwide. We have lost an innovative member of the music community and our sincerest condolences go out to Merle’s family, friends, collaborators and all who have been impacted by his incredible work. He will truly be missed.”
Today, upon learning of the death of the renowned Merle Haggard, many country music stars have reacted expressing their love and admiration for one of the genre’s greatest artists:
“When we lost George Jones, I said, ‘Years ago someone asked Coach Bum Phillips if Earl Campbell was in a class by himself. Bum replied, ‘Well if he ain’t, it sure don’t take long to check roll.’ The same applies for the great Merle Haggard. I will miss my friend.”
“Now in the presence of the One his sweet Mama told him about. We will miss you, but you won’t be missing us!”
“We’ve lost a unique voice and writer of great country songs. God Bless you Merle…I just wish you’d ‘made it through December’ a few more times.”
“Merle Haggard has been a huge influence in my life, to my music and my career. Thank you very much Hag and God bless you.”
“I don’t think it’s a hyperbole to say Merle Haggard was a national treasure. He was. Haggard is as American as apple pie and baseball. He was the poet laureate of country music. Try to find one songwriter in Nashville who didn’t idolize Hag. You can’t. It’s impossible.”
“I was fortunate enough to get to play several shows with Merle and he always had great advice to give me. We have lost an icon and a legend.”
“After meeting and being around Country legends such as Merle Haggard, it increased my respect and my desire of getting to know him, which I accomplished. His loss will be deeply mourned by everyone in Country music as well as by those of other music genres. May he rest in peace.”
-Doug Gray on behalf of The Marshall Tucker Band
“I am dumbfounded by this news. Merle Haggard was probably my greatest musical influence and my hero. I never shook his hand, but the music he made shook my soul to the core. It hurts to think about no more Haggard but honestly, we all know, that he made enough music to last us a lifetime. I just hope his passing might call attention to some of the stuff that made country music a mainstay. Maybe this generation will go back and listen to what shaped and molded the genre. I guess it’s okay to veer off in a different direction but the end product needs to have the same impact. The question is, how does today’s country music stack up when compared to one of the masters like Merle Haggard? Give it some thought. You don’t need my help with that one. I feel confident, you’ll figure it out. Thanks, Merle, for all the great songs and all the great music. It’ll never be the same.”
“Merle Haggard was a ‘must see’ artist, a cornerstone of country. Eloquent as a poet and singer, he was completely authentic…imitated but never equaled. Timeless music at its best. Restless Heart and all other bands owe him a great debt.”
-Dave Innis on behalf of Restless Heart
Admired Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos passed away on March 9, 2016.
Juvenal de Holanda Vasconcelos, better known as Nana Vasconcelos, was born in Recife. He learned to play a wide range of percussion instruments. He became one of the finest percussionists in the world.
Throughout his career, Nana Vasconcelos played alongside some of the most significant jazz, world music and Brazilian popular music acts, including Geraldo Vandre, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Jon Hassel, Don Cherry, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny.
American fiddler Trevor Stuart passed away suddenly at his home on March 2, 2016 at the age of forty-seven. Trevor Stuart was a member of the celebrated Stuart Brothers, performers of traditional Appalachian fiddle and banjo music.
Trevor Stuart was born and raised in Bethel, a rural farming community in Haywood County, in western North Carolina.
Trevor ad his brother Travis toured extensively throughout the United States and abroad, performing at major festivals and teaching workshops and master classes at music camps.
For over ten years, the Stuart Brothers led the Haywood County JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) an after-school program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Stuart brothers released two albums: Pretty Little Widow, (Yodel-Ay-Hee), and Mountaineer (Old 97 Wrecords) and appeared on numerous recordings.
Cuban vocalist, songwriter and tres player Reinaldo Hierrezuelo, better known as Rey Caney, died on Tuesday, February 23rd in Havana. Rey Caney was a highly influential figure in Cuban music.
Reinaldo Hierrezuelo, was born December 30, 1926 in Santiago de Cuba. In 1930 Rey Caney founded the seminal Cuban band Cuarteto Patria along with his cousin Francisco (Pancho) Cobas, Emilia Gracia and Rigoberto “Maduro” Echevarría. They performed traditional trova, boleros and música guajira (Cuban country music).
In 1952, Rey Caney formed the popular duo Los Compadres together with his brother Lorenzo. They accompanied celebrated singer-songwriter María Teresa Vera and Compay Segundo throughout the world.
He later joined Conjunto Caney, led by Benitico Yánes. Rey later joined other groups like Brisas de Nipe, Melodías del Sur and Orquesta de Lino Borbolla. In 1960 he traveled to New York with Miguelito Cuni and debuted with Arsenio Rodriguez.
During the 1960s, Rey Caney recorded with Sonora Matancera, sharing lead vocals with Celia Cruz and Celio González. He later joined the Sonora as a permanent member.
In 1994, Rey Caney co-founded the Vieja Trova Santiaguera with the intention of recording just one album. But the success of the ensemble was such, thanks to the support of Spanish record label Nubenegra, that they ended up recording more albums. This international success led to a renewed interest in traditional Cuban music and preceded the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon.
In 1999, Rey Caney recorded a solo album for Virgin Records titled “Enamorado de la vida” (Love of Life).
In 2003, Rey Caney retired after releasing “El balcón del adiós” with Vieja Trova Santiaguera.
Joey Lewis, who, for 6 decades, led the longest -running, and last of Trinidad’s popular dance orchestras, died in the early hours of February 8, at 78. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, he effectively stopped playing with the band (originally called the Teenagers) in 2012, weakened by the effects of chemotherapy.
Born on October 26th, 1937, in Gonzales, east Port of Spain, into a family of musicians (his father played guitar, and his mom sang), he began in the bands of elder brothers, Randolph, and Sonny.
Able to play any instrument, he first took to the piano – his electric keyboard riffs on an instrumental version of 1974’s “You’ll Always Be A Friend” by British group, Hot Chocolate, stand out- but the guitar made him popular.
In 1955, the Teenagers became the Joey Lewis Orchestra; its sound distinctly Trinidadian/calypso, but with strong Latin and jazz influences and elements.
He and the orchestra added the nickname ‘Pal’, after (seeing) the 1957 American film, ‘Pal Joey’, starring Frank Sinatra and Rita Haywood.
His 1960 hit, “Joey’s Saga”, in support of the ‘Saga Ting’ dance craze, introduced his unique guitar-strumming style, and saw them as the 1st to play on local television (as resident for the ‘Dance Party’ series).
In the golden era of dance bands (late 1940s to late 1970s), the Pal Joey Lewis Orchestra, with loyal members(, including, for 52 years, until his death in 2009, saxman, George Boucaud), took its place at the top, alongside those led by ‘Sir’ Sel Duncan, Clarence Curvan, the Dutchy (deVlugt) Brothers, and Fitz Vaughn Bryan.
It produced music for and to accompany the costumed masquerade bands on carnival parade days, and worked and recorded with established calypsonians such as the Mighty Sparrow, the Mighty Terror, the Mighty Duke, and soca (or party calypso) pioneer, Lord(later Ras) Shorty, as well as Barbados-born Singing Francine.
And, at a time when radio restricted the airplay of calypsos after carnival (especially in Lent), Joey Lewis’ instrumental versions helped maintain the genre’s profile, and, in the dances, popularity.
He toured North America(, meeting Harry Belafonte and jazz legend, Dizzie Gillespie, in 1964, briefly setting up base in Canada, in the early 1970s), the Caribbean and Europe, won the ‘Brass-o-Rama’ contest(, in which bands rendered instrumental arrangements of calypsos) in the carnival of 1979, and, in 2002, as Trinidad andTobago celebrated 40 years of independence, received a national award (the Humming Bird Medal) for his ‘services in the field of music’.
In all, the Joey Lewis Orchestra issued 83 albums, 142 singles and 12 CDs, (some, early on, for the RCA label) of originals like “ Pint of Wine”, “Bound To Dance” and “Debbie”, and covers (Kris Kristofferson’s “Why My Lord” and the Cuban classic, “Peanut Vendor”, among them), vocalists engaged sparingly; and continued entertaining sold-out audiences and lovers of ballroom dancing across the country all year ‘round to the present.
Clarence Curvan met Joey Lewis in brother, Sonny’s, band, before both went off to form their own. The two teamed up, a few years later, to create JoVan records. Now based in, and working out of New York City, USA, he remembers Joey ” …recommending that promoters hire me, even before I had a record. That…says a lot about his character. We maintained our relationship to the end“.
Another long-standing musician, saxophonist, Roy Cape, leader, from the late 1970s, of the All Stars, that backed calypsonians in the tents, and fetes (parties) but records mostly soca tunes, started with Curvan, after failing a 1961 audition with Lewis. He described him as “…a Rock of Gibraltar…with a huge influence on local music“.
‘Pal’ Joey Lewis ( October 26, 1937- February 8, 2016) leaves to mourn his wife of 52 years, Julia, children, Gerry (part of the orchestra since the 1980s, eventually assuming leadership), Joanne, Charmaine, Debra (about whom “Debbie” was written), Benedict, Judy and Gail, 8 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren, and sister, Jean.
from Sean Edwards, Power102FM, Port of Spain, Trinidad
When it comes to the Latin music world, the living legend of trumpet players was Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr., who passed on January 6, 2016 at the age of 87 years.
“Chocolate,” as we will refer to him. was born in in Santa Clara, Cuba on April 4, 1928 and resided in Brooklyn, New York. In his musical life Chocolate played with so many orchestras; too many to mention. Chocolate performed with Beny More, Arsenio Rodriguez, the Machito Orchestra, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Generoso
Jimenez, Larry Harlow and so many more.
According to timbalero great, Mario Grillo son of the famed Latin Orchestra leader, Frank Grillo “Machito”: “These are all the countries Chocolate Armenteros toured with me when we were in my father’s Machito Latin Orchestra: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, England, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico. The USA from Coast to Coast. We covered 35 cities in Europe. We traveled by bus, train, plane, ferry; we covered 15,000 miles in weeks.”
Mario stated that he is going to be 60 years old on St. Patrick’s Day and that he had known Chocolate for almost 60 years. Mario spoke of Chocolate with the utmost regard and said that Chocolate was family to his father and himself; that his sister Paula Grillo (former vocalist with the Machito Orchestra) and Alfredo Armenteros Jr. were baptized at the same church same day.
Mario Grillo: “When Mario Bauza and Graciela left my father’s Machito orchestra in 1975, they wanted Chocolate to go play with them in Mario Bauza’s Orchestra. Chocolate turned them down and chose to play with my father’s (Machito) orchestra. He was a very important person in my life and in many other people’s life. His talent was quite unique.
There are 1 million trumpet players on this earth; the minute he put his lips on that trumpet you knew it was Chocolate, just with his approach and concept. Chocolate was the greatest and most pleasant person; he was my friend and mentor. Mario Bauza had taught him my father’s music book (charts) and he taught me the book. He knew it full and well, he knew how my father’s orchestra worked and its approach and concept.”
Mario Grillo: “When you have a sound like Chocolate, how could you go wrong? He knew the roots of that orchestra.
I had dinner with many musicians and people, and dinner at the craziest of places. I even had dinner with Tito Puente. Whenever I would go out to dinner with Chocolate, it was complete, because he was complete. We would have a cocktail, an appetizer, a salad, soup, entrée, dessert and a digestif (an after dinner drink).
Chocolate recorded 3 albums for my father’s orchestra (Machito) and 2 studio recordings and he was on the North Sea Jazz Festival album recorded in Holland.
Even when no one wanted him as a roommate, when we were touring in Venezuela with the Machito Orchestra, I said he could be my room mate; we were in Venezuela for 10 days. I did not sleep for 10 days, when my wife came to pick me up at the airport she asked what had happened to me. She said I looked like a raccoon, with black under my eyes (Mario laughs)”.
Another time, Mario had told me about an incident where the promoter had not paid the touring musicians and his father Machito called the promoter and told him they needed to get paid, that Machito told the promoter that he had enough cash to fly all the musicians home and that if the promoter did not show up at the next city with cash for all the musicians, they were flying home and canceling the tour. Mario said that the promoter did show up and Mario did pay all the musicians.
With their payday, Mario said that Chocolate told him, “Let’s go have dinner”. Mario said that he and Chocolate spent $500.00 on dinner.
Mario was getting emotional talking about Chocolate. Mario Grillo: “When my father passed, I had the vote of confidence emotionally and physically from Chocolate and he came to our house after the funeral.
If you had a chance to see Chocolate, you saw the greatest thing, and if you didn’t you lose out!”
Miguel “Pacha” Pozo, leader of Charanga Pacha in New York City, Jose Fajardo Sr. Charanga Orchestra: “I never had the pleasure to perform with Chocolate but 2 years ago he was part of the Jose Fajardo Awards and still at 84 he sounded great. The sound that he got out of the trumpet was awesome, he will be missed.”
Patricia Thumas, pianist from San Francisco, California: “I did a gig long ago with Tito Garca’s Orchestra and Chocolate had flown in from Miami and did the gig with us, It was a blast!”
Cid Govanni Ramos, Latin percussionist from Puerto Rico, member of Facebook’s Timbales Congas Bongo Bata & Bells: “Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros was like the last Mohican of Cuban son-style trumpet player. He played with a lot of people back then in Cuba and in New York with the top salsa artists in the scene, he will be deeply missed.”
Faustino Cruz, timbalero, bongosero, Latin music historian & musicologist, and Latin instrument historian, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania via New York City: “Chocolate a heartfelt moment. We worked together for quite some time in the Joe Cotto Orquesta. I remember him calling me Joe Cotto’s son because I was the youngest member of the band at the time. We had great times. “
Tito Rodriguez Jr., timbalero, orchestra leader, son of the great Tito Rodriguez Sr.: “Chocolate will be sorely missed not only as a great trumpet player but as a person. He did several recording sessions for my father’s label in the late 70s. He was always smiling when I would run into him at his favorite eating place in El Barrio, New York City. A true legend RIP!”
John “Dandy” Rodriguez, legendary bongosero, formerly from Tito Puente Orchestra and currently with MLO The Mambo Legends Orchestra: “Chocolate was a super trumpet player, a super person, always smiling, always dressed sharp, he recorded in Cuba and the United States, he was a one of a kind person, great soloist on his instrument. Chocolate was not a lead trumpet player, but he had a tone, if you closed your eyes; you would know it was Chocolate!”
Our deepest regards to Alfredo Armenteros Jr.and Family. Chocolate will be greatly missed, although we have his grand recordings to listen to in his memory.
Thanks you to all the great artist that contributed their time and memories to this article. A special thank you to Mario Grillo, you’re too much man, and you had me from tears to laughing the hardest I have laughed in years! (almost like a Hispanic telenovela!)
One of Spain’s best known flamenco vocalists, Manuel de los Santos Pastor, better known as ‘Agujetas’ or ‘Agujetas de Jerez’, passed away December 25 at the Hospital del Servicio Andaluz de Salud in Jerez de la Frontera. He was 76 years old.
Manuel Agujetas was an exceptional singer. He was born in Jerez de la Frontera (some biographies indicate Rota) in 1939. He grew up in the Spanish Gypsy tradition of singing blacksmiths. His father, known as ‘Agujetas Viejo’ introduced him to the singing style of masters such as Manuel Torre, Tío José de Paula and El Marruro.
Agujetas worked in his father’s forge until 1970, when he made his first recording. He achieved international recognition for his singing of the superbly intense form of flamenco called cante jondo (deep song) that includes flamenco’s purest, ancient styles such as martinetes and siguiriyas.
Manuel Agujetas was the father of singers Dolores Agujetas and Antonio Agujetas. He recorded over 13 albums, including his debut titled ‘Viejo cante jondo’ (1972) and his most recent, a 5-volume anthology titled ‘Agujetas: Historia, Pureza y Vanguardia del Flamenco’ (2012).
Agujetas also appeared in Carlos Saura’s influential movie “Flamenco” and was the subject of Dominique Abel’s documentary “Agujetas, Cantaor”.
Pianist, singer-songwriter, composer and producer Allen Toussaint passed away this morning, November 10, 2015 in Madrid after a live performance. Shortly after his concert at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, the iconic New Orleans artist suffered a cardiac arrest when he was back at his hotel. The medical team managed to resuscitate him, but after being transferred to the Jimenez Diaz Foundation Hospital he died.
Allen Toussaint has a tremendous influence on American music, reaching deep into the genres of rhythm and blues, pop, country, musical theater, blues and jazz. Some of the best known hits written by Toussaint include: Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law;” “Fortune Teller,” recorded by both Benny Spellman and The Rolling Stones; the Lee Dorsey hit “Working in the Coal Mine”, also recorded by Devo and The Judds; and “Southern Nights,” recorded by Glen Campbell.
Toussaint produced such artists as Etta James, Albert King, Chocolate Milk, The Meters, LaBelle, Ramsey Lewis, John Mayall and Dr. John, and has been covered by and/or performed with the Pointer Sisters, Bonnie Raitt, The Judds, Robert Palmer, Otis Redding, The O’Jays, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Winter, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Chet Atkins, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello, among others.
In the past decade, Toussaint achieved additional notoriety thanks to the support of Elvis Costello, with whom he recorded the album The River in Reverse (2006). Toussaint also appeared in the popular HBO series Treme.
Video of Allen Toussaint’s last live performance:
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