Legendary band leader and percussionist Tito Puente was among the most innovative and influential figures in Latin music and jazz in the US for more than six decades. To spotlight Puente’s contribution to Hispanic culture, Google on Tuesday featured an animated Doodle depicting the percussionist’s energetic and charismatic performance style through the decades.
The Doodle also marks the first anniversary of the Tito Puente Monument being unveiled in New York’s East Harlem.
Often referred to by his nickname El Rey (The King), Puente is credited with popularizing mambo — Cuban dance music born out of the fusion of swing and Cuban music that features enticing rhythms.
Running from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes and celebrates the cultures and contributions of Hispanic Americans. In previous years, Google has also honored Puerto Rican civil rights pioneer Felicitas Mendez, Mexican American botanist Ynes Mexía and baseball great and humanitarian Roberto Clemente.
Tuesday’s animated Doodle opens with a young Puente drumming on pans in his home neighborhood of Spanish Harlem in the 1920s and ’30s. He later joined the US Navy in World War II, during which he would serve in nine battles before being discharged. The Doodle goes on to show the decades of Puente’s near-constant touring, which usually included 200 to 300 shows a year.
Puente was also a prodigious artist in the studio, recording at least 119 albums between 1949 and 2000, including Abaniquito, a crossover mambo hit that made Puente a star. But he’s perhaps best known for the 1962 classic Oye Como Va, a Latin jazz composition that reached greater popularity when it was recorded by the rock band Santana in 1970. Puente also portrayed himself in the movie The Mambo Kings, a 1992 drama about two musician brothers who flee Cuba for New York.
The musician collected dozens of honors and awards, including five Grammys during his lifetime as well as a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He was also the recipient of the Smithsonian National Museum’s Medal of Honor and Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Medal of Arts, the Eubie Blake Award from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Hispanic Heritage Committee Award for the Arts, among many others.
Puente died at the age of 77 in 2000 after complications following open heart surgery.