Ray Barretto is a Latin Jazz conga player and the bandleader of Puerto Rican descent who is known as “The King of the Hard Hands”. He is a Grammy Award winner and thought to be largely responsible for the birth of Latin Jazz.
Over the course of his long career he has played and recorded with many jazz greats and has successfully adapted his style with the times by recording both acid jazz and R&B.
Ray Barretto was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 29, 1929 but grew up in the city’s Spanish Harlem neighborhood. His musical career really started at the age of seventeen while he was stationed in Germany during a tour of service with the US Army.
While there he heard a recording of “Manteca” by Dizzy Gillespie and fell in love not only with jazz, but also the conga playing featured on the song. Barretto began sitting in on jam sessions while oversees and really jumped in to the American jazz scene when he was discharged in 1949.
Self taught on the drums, Barretto frequented New York’s jazz clubs and found gigs with Eddie Bonnemere, pianist Jose Curbelo, and with the famed timbales player and bandleader Tito Puente, even playing on Puente’s album “Dance Mania”.
Barretto has also recorded for Red Garland, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, and Cannonball Adderley as well as the Bee Gees and the Rolling Stones.
Ray Barretto has been an in house musician at different times for the Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, and Fania labels. While at Fania he was the musical director for the super group The Fania All-stars.
Barretto has also led countless recording sessions as a leader, including the notable albums “Que Viva La Musica”, “Charanga Moderna”, “Indestructible”, “Acid”, and his most well known album “Barretto”, which featured Rueben Blades.
However, Barretto will forever be known for his composition, and the first ever Latin song on the Billboard charts, 1961’s “El Watusi”.
Barretto has been nominated for many Grammy Awards as well as winning for the album “Ritmo en el Corazon”.
He was named the Conga Player of the year two years in a row from the Latin NY magazine reader’s poll, and has been inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Barretto died on the 17th of February in 2006.