Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto.jpg
Background information
Born(1929-04-29)April 29, 1929
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 17, 2006(2006-02-17) (aged 76)
Hackensack, New Jersey, US
GenresAfro-Cuban jazz, salsa, son cubano, boogaloo, pachanga
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader
InstrumentsCongas, drums, percussion
Years active1949–2006
LabelsTico, Riverside, United Artists, Fania, Atlantic, CTI, Concord Jazz, Zoho Music

Ray Barretto (April 29, 1929 – February 17, 2006) was an American percussionist and bandleader of Puerto Rican ancestry.[1] Throughout his career as a percussionist, he played a wide variety of Latin music styles, as well as Latin jazz. His first hit, "El Watusi", was recorded by his Charanga Moderna in 1962, becoming the most successful pachanga song in the United States. In the late 1960s, Barretto became one of the leading exponents of boogaloo and what would later be known as salsa. Nonetheless, many of Barretto's recordings would remain rooted in more traditional genres such as son cubano. A master of the descarga (improvised jam session), Barretto was a long-time member of the Fania All-Stars.[2][1] His success continued into the 1970s with songs such as "Cocinando" and "Indestructible." His last album for Fania Records, Soy dichoso, was released in 1990. He then formed the New World Spirit jazz ensemble and continued to tour and record until his death in 2006.

Life and career

Early years

Barretto (his real name, "Barreto", was misspelled on his birth certificate)[citation needed] was born on April 29, 1929, in New York City. His parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico in the early 1920s, looking for a better life. His father left their family when Barretto was four, and his mother Delores moved the family to the Bronx,[1][2][3] and from a young age he was influenced by his mother's love of music and by the jazz of Duke Ellington and Count Basie.[4][5][6]

In 1946, when Barretto was 17 years old, he joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, he met Belgian vibraphonist Fats Sadi. However, it was when he heard Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" with Gil Fuller and Chano Pozo that he realized his calling.[4][5][6]

Beginnings as a sideman

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 José Curbelo and Tito Puente, for whom he played for four years. It was in 1958, while playing for Puente, that Barretto received his first recording credit.[3] 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.[4][5][6]

Charanga Moderna and rise to fame

In 1960, Barretto was a house musician for the Prestige, Blue Note, and Riverside labels.[3] He also recorded on Columbia Records with Jazz flautist Herbie Mann.[7] New York had become the center of Latin music in the United States and a musical genre called pachanga was the Latin music craze of the early 1960s. In 1962, Barretto formed his first group, Charanga La Moderna,[2] and recorded his first hit, "El Watusi" for Tico Records.[1] He was quite successful with the song and the genre, to the point of being typecast (something that he disliked).[4][5][6]

Boogaloo and early salsa

In 1965, Barretto signed with the Latin division of United Artists, UA Latino, and began recording a series of albums in the boogaloo genre, which merges rhythm and blues with Latin music. On his album El Ray Criollo, Barretto explored the modern Latin sounds of New York, combining features of charanga and conjunto to birth a new style which would later be known as salsa. After recording four albums for the United Artists label, Barretto joined the Fania record label in 1967, and his first recording for the new label was the 1968 album Acid, which is often cited as one of the most enduring boogaloo albums, with songs such as "A Deeper Shade of Soul" and the title track was included in the soundtrack of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories on the fictitious Latin music radio station "Radio Espantoso". During this period, Adalberto Santiago was the band's lead vocalist.

Success with Fania

Ray Barretto, at UC Berkeley Jazz Festival 1982
Ray Barretto, at UC Berkeley Jazz Festival 1982

In 1972 Barretto's Que viva la música was released. "Cocinando," a track from the album, opened the soundtrack of the Fania All Stars film Our Latin Thing in which Barretto had a role. After a number of successful albums, and just as his Afro-Cuban band had attained a remarkable following, most of its members left it to form Típica 73, a multinational salsa conglomerate. In 1973, Barretto recorded the album Indestructible, in which he played "La familia", a song written by José Curbelo in 1953 and recorded by the sonero Carlos Argentino with the Cuban band Sonora Matancera; Tito Allen joined as new vocalist. Allen left the band after "Indestructible". This series of departures left Barretto depressed and disappointed with salsa; he then redirected his efforts to jazz, while remaining as musical director of the Fania All Stars. In 1975 he released Barretto, also referred to as the Guararé album, with new vocalists Ruben Blades and Tito Gomez.[4][5][6]

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 album "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 Rican/Struction, which was named 1980 "Best Album" by Latin N.Y. Magazine, with Barretto crowned as Conga Player of the Year.[4][5][6]

New World Spirit

Ray Barretto (left) performing in Deauville, France, in 1991.
Ray Barretto (left) performing in Deauville, France, in 1991.

In 1990, Barretto won his first Grammy for the album Ritmo en el corazón ("Rhythm in the Heart"), which featured the vocals of Celia Cruz.[1] His 1968 song "A Deeper Shade Of Soul" was sampled for the 1991 Billboard Hot 100 #21 hit "Deeper Shade of Soul" by Dutch band Urban Dance Squad.[4][5][6]

Also in the 1990s, a Latin agent, Chino Rodríguez, approached Barretto with a concept he also pitched to Larry Harlow. The idea was "The Latin Legends of Fania", and Barretto, Harlow, Yomo Toro, Pete "el Conde" Rodríguez, Junior González, Ismael Miranda, and Adalberto Santiago came together and formed "The Latin Legends of Fania", booked by Chino Rodríguez of Latin Music Booking.com. However, in 1992[2] Barretto left the Legends to focus on his new jazz ensemble, New World Spirits,[1] with which he recorded several albums for the Concord Jazz label.

In 1999, Barretto was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.[4][5][6]

In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Barretto its Jazz Masters Award.[3][8]

Barretto lived in New York and was an active musical producer, as well as the leader of a touring band which embarked on tours of the United States, Africa, Europe, Israel and Latin America.[4][5][6]


Barretto died of heart failure and complications of multiple health issues on February 17, 2006, at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.[3] His body was flown to Puerto Rico, where Barretto was given formal honors by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; his remains were cremated.[4][5][6]


External audio
audio icon You may listen to Ray Barretto's "El Watusi" on YouTube.

As leader

With New World Spirit

As sideman

With Gene Ammons

With Bee Gees

With Ray Bryant

With Kenny Burrell

With Arnett Cobb

With Billy Cobham

With Celia Cruz

With George Benson

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

With Deodato

With Bill Doggett

With Judy Collins

With Lou Donaldson

With Art Farmer

With Jimmy Forrest

With the Red Garland Trio

With Ben E. King

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Al Grey

With Slide Hampton

With Eddie Harris

With Willis Jackson

With Clifford Jordan

With Yusef Lateef

With Johnny Lytle

With Junior Mance

With Herbie Mann

With Jack McDuff

With Wes Montgomery

With Oliver Nelson

With Dave Pike

With Michel Sardaby

With Johnny "Hammond" Smith

With Jeremy Steig and Eddie Gómez

With Sonny Stitt

With Cal Tjader

With Julius Watkins

With Weather Report

With Frank Wess

With Charles Williams

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Ray Barretto | American percussionist and bandleader". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  2. ^ a b c d "NPR's Jazz Profiles: Ray Barretto". legacy.npr.org. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e Chinen, Nate (2006-02-18). "Ray Barretto, a Master of the Conga Drum, Dies at 76". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Guzman, Pablo (2006-02-21). "Ray Barretto, 1929–2006". Village Voice. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Drummerworld: Ray Barretto". Drummerworld.com. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ray Barretto discography at MusicBrainz
  7. ^ Puente, Celia Cruz, Tito Rodriguez, Herbie Mann, Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco, Carlos "Patato" Valdes, Santos Colón, Santos Miranda – Salsa
  8. ^ "In Memoriam: Ray Barretto, 1929-2006". NEA. 2012-12-19. Retrieved 2020-06-12.