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Tito Puente

A musical pioneer known for fusing Latin music with jazz, Tito Puente was born in New York City in 1923. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Puente was a professional musician by the time he was 13.

Puente's musical education began as a child. Growing up in his native city's Spanish Harlem neighborhood, the man who would one day be referred to as "The King of Latin Music" started taking piano lessons as a child before later studying percussion. Eventually, the versatile Puente would learn to play a host of instruments, including the saxophone and the timbales.

Though remembered as a legendary musician, Puente was also a distinguished veteran of the United States military, having served in the Navy for three years during World War II. Puente's discharge from military service was accompanied by a Presidential Commendation for serving in nine battles.

Upon his return to New York in 1945, Puente took advantage of the G.I. Bill and began studying at the renowned Juilliard School of Music. Within a decade, the band that would eventually be known as the Tito Puente Orchestra began to draw crowds.

Puente's popularity soared in the 1950s, enabling him to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, including mambo and cha-cha-cha, to more mainstream audiences. The 1950s also saw the release of what is arguably Puente's most widely recognized album, "Dance Mania."

Throughout his career, Puente made more than 100 albums and received numerous awards, including five Grammy Awards. Puente's career also included appearances in film and television, including the 1992 film "The Mambo Kings" and an appearance on the wildly popular American television show "The Simpsons."

Puente passed away in 2000 while in a New York hospital for heart surgery. Fans of the legendary musician waited in line for days to say goodbye.