Tito Rodríguez was an important Puerto Rican bandleader remembered for his Bolero ballads. Bolero is romantic music derived from Cuban Trova (troubadour) folk music in the late 1800s. When you think of Bolero, you can’t help but think of “El Inolvidable” Tito Rodríguez.
A child prodigy in Puerto Rico who started recording internationally at age 13, Tito followed his musical brother to New York in the 1940s where Cubop Latin Jazz was developing alongside Bebop Modern Jazz.
By the 1950s, Tito was one of the top Latin bandleaders. He was one of the Palladium Big 3 who inspired the Mambo and Cha-Cha Latin dance crazes that swept the United States and the world.
One of the great romantic singers of all time, Rodríguez was a brilliant, handsome, elegant, clean-cut man who lived a clean life. The 1950s was the time of the Great Migration from Puerto Rico that made us one of the communities that defines New York City.
In the 1960s, Tito moved back to Puerto Rico to raise his family. He ran a television show that brought international stars of the day to Puerto Rico. In many ways, Tito Rodríguez represented the very best of our American Dream.
¡El Inolvidable! Tito Rodríguez at Hostos Center
¡El Inolvidable! Tito Rodríguez is a three-day tribute to the legendary Puerto Rican bandleader with Tito Rodríguez Jr leading the Tito Rodríguez Orchestra and special guest artist Gilberto Santa Rosa at Hostos Center in Mott Haven, The Bronx, Friday-Sunday, November 11-13, 2022. Free & ticketed events. Saturday-Sunday, tribute concert from $45. TICKETS cuny.edu 🇵🇷
This is the last of the Hostos Center tributes to the Palladium Big 3: Machito, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodríguez. It is an important tribute because it’s led by Tito’s family and friends, the people who loved him and worked with him.
Never-Before-Heard Recordings 1940s-50s
Joe Conzo Sr, Latin Music author and historian, plays never-before-heard live Tito Rodríguez recordings from the 1940s-50s in a wine and cheese reception in Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos College in Mott Haven, The Bronx on Friday, November 11, 2022 at 5:30pm. Free. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
Joe Conzo Sr was one of Tito Puente’s neighborhood buddies. His book “Mambo Diablo: My Journey with Tito Puente” is one of the great testimonies of the era.
Mambo Madness & Beyond
Film collector Henry Medina screens Tito Rodríguez film and television highlights including the 1955 short “Mambo Madness” in the Hostos Center Repertory Theater on Friday, November 11, 2022 at 7:30pm. Free, but tickets required from the Hostos Box Office. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
The Mambo? A Bolero? Who is Tito Rodriguez?
Fania All-Star John “Dandy” Rodríguez Jr leads his 10-piece orchestra in “The Mambo? A Bolero? Who is Tito Rodriguez?,” a free family concert that explains Latin music in the Hostos Center Repertory Theater on Saturday, November 12, 2022 at 12:30pm. Free with tickets from the Hostos Box Office. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
John “Dandy” Rodríguez Jr is one of the Salsa legends who is still very active. He regularly plays the Gonzalez y Gonzalez Salsa dance club in Greenwich Village. Dandy followed his musical father’s footsteps and began playing bongos for Tito Puente’s orchestra when he was just 17 and did so for 30 years. He played with Tito Rodríguez in the 1960s. He played with Ray Barretto from 1970-72 and then formed his own Típica 73.
The Legacy of Tito Rodríguez Panel
Berklee College of Music percussion professor Egui Castrillo moderates a panel discussion on The Legacy of Tito Rodríguez with Tito Rodriguez Jr, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Joe Conzo Sr, John “Dandy” Rodríguez Jr., and Latin Music historian René Lopez in the Hostos Center Repertory Theater on Saturday, November 12, 2022 at 3:30pm. Free with tickets from the Hostos Box Office. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
Tito Rodríguez Jr & the Tito Rodríguez Orchestra with Gilberto Santa Rosa
Tito Rodríguez Jr & the Tito Rodríguez Orchestra with Gilberto Santa Rosa tribute Tito Rodríguez in the Hostos Center Main Theater on Saturday, November 12, 2022 at 8pm and Sunday, November 13 at 4pm. From $45. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
Tito Rodríguez Jr is one of today’s leading timbaleros. He brings his father’s legacy and his own signature sound to venues like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and in Puerto Rico El Día Nacional de la Salsa.
Gilberto Santa Rosa is a Salsa legend himself, but is probably Tito’s biggest fan. He collects Tito memorabilia, and even bought the family home in Santurce, San Juan. In a way, “El Caballero de la Salsa” has styled his own professional persona after “El Inolvidable.”
Never-Before-Heard Recordings 1960s-70s
Joe Conzo Sr, Latin Music author and historian, plays never-before-heard live Tito Rodríguez recordings from the 1960s-70s at a coffee reception in Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos College in Mott Haven, The Bronx on Sunday, November 13, 2022 at 2pm. Free. cuny.edu 🇵🇷
Tito Rodríguez ¡El Inolvidable!
Pablo Tito Rodríguez Lozada was born in Barrio Obrero, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 4, 1923.
He was a child prodigy who was soon performing in Puerto Rico, and made his first overseas recordings at age 13. After his parents passed, Rodríguez followed his musical brother to New York City to seek his fortune in 1940. The war years were a peak time for New York City. The City was buzzing.
Rodríguez worked in the best orchestras such as Noro Morales, the Puerto Rican pianist who was then one of New York’s most popular bandleaders. He worked with Xavier Cugat, the Spanish Cuban bandleader of the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra, one of the early crossover Latin orchestras in the United States. Before the Times Square Ball Drop, the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra used to ring in New Year’s Eve, so it was known across America.
Rodríguez went solo in 1947. His first hit was “Bésame la Bembita” (Kiss my big lips).
The Palladium Big 3
Tito Rodríguez, Machito and Tito Puente were the Palladium Big 3 orchestras that inspired the Mambo and Cha Cha Latin dance crazes that swept the United States and the world in the 1950s.
Machito and His Afro-Cubans was the band that defined Latin Jazz in 1940s New York City. While Bebop Modern Jazz was developing uptown at Minton’s and other places in Harlem, Machito and his music director Mario Bauzá were developing Cubop Latin Jazz in El Barrio and The Bronx.
Tito Puente was a New York Puerto Rican master of the Cuban style which was popular up until the Fania sound of the 1970s.
Tito Rodríguez became known for his Bolero ballads. Latin Jazz and Cuban Salsa have a lot of energy in them. But when a bolero plays, it’s time to turn the lights down low and hold your dance partner a little closer, no a lot closer. It’s the lover’s moment. This is what we remember Tito Rodríguez for, so his music has a special place in people’s hearts.
The Palladium Ballroom (1698 Broadway at 53rd St, 1946-66) was a special place too. The dance studio was going out of business when they decided to try letting Latins in. It was a smart move that made the Palladium one of the places to see and be seen in New York City.
The club ran two bandstands so when one band finished a song, the other band started. Rodríguez alternated with bands led by Latin music legends such as Noro Morales, Tito Puente, Machito, Charlie Palmieri, Arsenio Rodríguez, La Sonora Matancera and more.
It was one of the first clubs in New York that allowed all people to mix together freely. The only thing that mattered was how well you danced. Dancers became stars themselves. Celebrities like Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra came and sat on the floor with everyone else. The 1992 movie “Mambo Kings” is about that time and place.
This was also the time of the “Great Migration” from Puerto Rico, so the 1950s became the Golden Age of Latin dance in the United States. Seniors still remember those days and talk about dancing “Palladium Style.” It was special.
Rodríguez’ biggest song was 1963’s “Inolvidable” on the album “From Tito Rodríguez with Love.” The worldwide hit gave him his nickname.
He wasn’t the first to sing the song, but Rodríguez made it one of the great romantic standards of all time. The Julio Gutiérrez song has been covered by great romantic artists ever since, including Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos, Puerto Rican singer Danny Rivera, American singer Eydie Gormé, Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés & Spanish singer Diego El Cigala, Spanish singer Paloma San Basilio, and Mexican singer Luis Miguel.
Rodríguez moved back to Puerto Rico in 1966 to raise his family. He hosted a TV show, “El Show de Tito Rodríguez” that brought great artists and celebrities of the time to the island.
Tito was masterful until the very end. His last performance was with his old friend Machito at Madison Square Garden in February 1973. El Inolvidable passed away that month.
We all have a few memories that we never forget. For people of a certain age, some of those are likely to be dancing a Tito Rodríguez Bolero very close with someone you loved, once upon a time in New York or San Juan.
“En la vida hay amores, que nunca pueden olvidarse…”