Influential Salsa Music Promoter Ralph Mercado Dies in New York

Ralph Mercado
Ralph Mercado

New York (NY), USA – Music impresario Ralph Mercado passed away Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 4:30pm at Hackensack University Medical Center surrounded by his beloved family. Mercado passed after sustaining a two-year battle with cancer. Known as the most important promoter, manager and producer of Latin Music events for more than 30 years, Mercado was responsible for the careers of many in the salsa music world such as Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Marc Anthony, La India and many more. A visionary and innovator, Ralph Mercado opened many doors taking the popular New York music known as "salsa" all over the world staging global Latin music events as well as building a record label, publishing company, a video and film production arm, and a catalog of award-winning international hits that transformed the Latin music industry.

Born in 1941, Mercado was organizing parties and dances as president of a neighborhood social club while still a teenager. His initial “waistline parties” (where guys were admitted free but had to pay a penny per inch of their dates’ waistline) were so successful he moved them up from the basement to the second floor above a garage on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn calling the new hotspot the 3 & 1 Club.

There, Mercado began booking local Latin bands such as Eddie Palmieri and Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz among many others. Shortly after, Mercado started his first management, booking and promotions company called Showstoppers. He promoted R&B acts including James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Stylistics, the Chi-lites and others, creating a salsa/soul music trend.

From Brooklyn, Mercado ventured into Manhattan. He helped expand the Fania All-Stars, promoted dances at the Cheetah Nightclub and presented Latin jazz at the Red Garter. Later, he partnered with Jack Hooke, Tito Puente’s longtime manager and confidante, creating the Salsa Meets Jazz Series at the Village Gate and the Latin Jazz Jam as part of the JVC Jazz Festival.

A great judge of talent, Mercado opened RMM Management in 1972 representing Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. He went on to manage virtually every name in the industry, including its two biggest stars: Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. His concerts grew more popular and by 1987 the wildly successful “Latin Tinge” nights at the Palladium on New York’s 14th Street were bringing 3,000 "salseros" to dance every Thursday night. Mercado managed these events until 1992, when he refocused his energies on the creation of a record label, RMM.

Mercado expanded his venture into numerous companies including RMM Records, RMM Filmworks, and two publishing houses. With over 140 artists signed to RMM Records, the label sold millions of recordings a year. The recipient of countless awards and proclamations, Ralph Mercado was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Tribute by Billboard Magazine in 1999.

Always an innovator, Ralph Mercado pioneered the presentation of salsa music in Africa, South America, Asia, and Israel. He was one of the first to bring Latin music concerts to such prestigious venues as Radio City Music Hall with Julio Iglesias’ New York performance; Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall; the Beacon Theater; and Madison Square Garden.

By 1976, Mayor Abraham Beame presented Mercado with a proclamation establishing the September concerts as the “Official New York Salsa Day.” Corporate partners such as Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Phillip Morris, McDonalds’ and others vied for advertising spots during these extravaganzas.

Mercado’s organizational and management skills throughout did much to shape the growth of the music that would become known as "salsa." Mercado’s efforts refined the concepts of promotion, performance and touring that would become the industry standard. Mercado personally discovered, mentored and shaped the careers of young superstars Marc Anthony and La India making them household names.

His knack for working with talent powered the careers of Domingo Quiñones, Tony Vega, José Alberto “El Canario,” Tito Nieves, and many others. And Mercado is responsible for developing the entrepreneurial spirit of today’s young promoters. With a keen understanding of his market, Mercado maintained a dense network of relationships with radio people, press outlets, distributors and retailers, and many others in the infrastructure of the Latin music industry.

In June 2001, Mercado returned to his passion of producing and staging Latin music events worldwide. As a restaurateur, Mercado opened the American themed steak house Alma Grill, the upscale Mexican Restaurant Zona Rosa, the Latino Nouveau Restaurant and Lounge Babalú in midtown New York. He also reopened the former Club Broadway as LQ (the Latin Quarter).

Mercado’s RMM Filmworks produced the internationally recognized and acclaimed documentary on the history of Latin music, Yo Soy Del Son A La Salsa, and his publishing companies, Caribbean Wave and Crossing Borders, provided music for major feature films, television and soap operas.

Above all, Mercado’s success stemmed from his passion for the music. “In the very beginning,” said Mercado “I started RMM (Ralph Mercado Management) and the other companies because I loved the music. I still do.”

Mercado first fell in love with the rhythms while at the Palladium Nightclub when he was only 16, watching the big bands of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. “Right then I knew I would be involved with this wonderful music one way or another. And thank God I was never a musician.” he confessed slyly. “I would probably have been terrible and would have starved to death. I used to dance a little but nothing to write home about. My forte is as a promoter,” he proudly stated. “I’ve always been a promoter.”

Notwithstanding, this promoter of humble Brooklyn, New York roots and Puerto Rican/Dominican parentage rose to the top through sheer hard work, dedication and belief in the rhythms of his ancestors.

Ralph Mercado is survived by his wife Cynthia and his five children, Debbie, Damaris, Melissa, Ralph Mercado III, Chanel, and his siblings, John Ayala, Richard Ayala and Angelica Kreiger, Jorge Sanchez, and his seven grandchildren.

Public viewing info:

Riverside Memorial Chapel
180 W 76th St
(between Amsterdam Ave & Columbus Ave)
New York, NY 10023
(212) 362-6600
Thursday March 12, 2009 1:15pm – 9pm

Condolences and well wishes can be emailed directly to:


Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central


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