Ray Barretto  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ray Barretto (April 29, 1929February 17, 2006), a.k.a. King of the Hard Hands, was a Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican jazz musician, widely credited as the godfather of Latin jazz. With "El Watusi", he was also the first Hispanic to record a Latin song which became a "hit" in the American Billboard Charts.


Early years

Barretto (whose surname is really "Barreto"; a mistake at the time Ray's birth certificate was filed gave his last name its formal spelling) 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 Belgium vibist 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.

Barretto plays for Charlie Parker

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.

Barretto's first hit "El Watusi"

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 in April 1963 the Billboard charts. He was quite successful with the song and the genre, to the point of being type casted (something that he disliked). 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.

Barretto 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, and was nominated for a Grammy for "Barretto Live...Tomorrow". In 1979, he recorded "La Cuna" for CTI records, and 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.

Later years

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. Barreto died 17 February 2006 at the Hackensack University Hospital of heart failure and multiple health complications. His body was flown to Puerto Rico, where Barretto was given formal honors by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; his remains were eventually cremated.



  • Barretto para bailar (Riverside, 1961)
  • Charanga moderna (Tico, 1962)
  • Cocinando suave (Riverside, 1962)
  • La moderna & El watusi (Tico, 1962)
  • Pachanga (Saludos Amigos, 1962)
  • Latino! (Riverside, 1963)
  • On Fire Again (Encendido otra vez) (Tico, 1963)
  • The Big Hits Latin Style (Tico, 1963)
  • Guajira y guaguancó (Tico, 1964)
  • Swing la moderna & Los cueros (Tico, 1964)
  • Viva Viva Watusi! (Polydor, 1965)
  • Señor 007 (United Artists, 1966)
  • Alma alegre (Jazzland, 1967)
  • Latino con Soul (West Side Latino, 1967)
  • Soul Drummer (Fania, 1967)
  • Acid (Fania, 1968)
  • Fiesta en el barrio (Polydor, 1968)
  • Hard Hands (Fania, 1968)
  • Together (Fania, 1970)
  • From the Beginning (Fania, 1971)
  • Carnaval (1972)
  • Barretto Power (Fania, 1972)
  • Cocinando (Fania, 1972)
  • Head Sounds (Fania, 1972)
  • The Message (Fania, 1972)
  • El Ray criollo (Polydor, 1972)
  • Que viva la música (Salsa, 1972)
  • Indestructible (Fania, 1973)
  • The Other Road (Fania, 1973)
  • Barretto (Fania, 1975)
  • Tomorrow: Barretto Live (Atlantic, 1976)
  • Energy to Burn (Fania, 1977)
  • Eye of the Beholder (Atlantic, 1977)
  • Can You Feel It? (Atlantic, 1978)
  • Gracias (FNA, 1978)
  • La cuna (CTI, 1979)
  • Rican/Struction (Fania, 1979)
  • Giant Force (Fania, 1980)
  • Rhythm of Life (Fania, 1982)
  • Todo se va poder (FNA, 1984)
  • Aquí se puede (Fania, 1987)
  • Irresistible (Fania, 1989)
  • Ray Barretto (T.H. Rodven, 1990)
  • Handprints (Concord Picante, 1991)
  • Soy Dichoso (Fania, 1992)
  • Live in New York (Messidor, 1992)
  • Moderna de Siempre (Tico, 1995)
  • Descarga criolla (Palladium, 1995)
  • Salsa Caliente de Nu York (Universe, 2001)
  • Fuerza Gigante: Live in Puerto Rico April 27, 2001 (Universe, 2004)
  • Standards Rican-ditioned (Zoho Music, 2006) Letzte CD, ASIN B000GETWAO (Vertrieb D,CH: LeiCom)

With Guarare

  • Guarare (1977)
  • Guarare (1979)
  • La onda típica (1981)

With Celia Cruz

  • Tremendo trío! (Fania, 1983)
  • Ritmo en el corazón (Off-Beat, 1988)

With New World Spirit

  • Ancestral Messages (Concord Picante, 1992)
  • Taboo (Concord Picante, 1994)
  • My Summertime (Owl, 1995)
  • Contact! (Blue Note, 1997)
  • Portraits in Jazz and Clave (RCA, 2000)
  • Trancedance (Circular Moves, 2001)
  • Homage to Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers (Sunnyside, 2003)
  • Time Was - Time Is (O+ Music, 2005)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ray Barretto" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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