Roberto Roena, Renowned Salsa Singer and Composer, Dies at 81

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Roberto Roena, a Puerto Rican salsa percussionist, orchestra leader, and one of the original members of El Gran Combo, died Thursday, September 23. He was 81 years old.

His death was made public on his official Instagram page by Andrés Waldemar, singer of the Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound and spokesman for the family.

“I regret to inform the people of Puerto Rico and the fans of the world that our Puerto Rican glory…Roberto Roena Vázquez, went ahead of us in the heavenly journey and rests in the arms of Christ.”

Born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Roena started his career as a child when he performed with his brothers on the TV program La Taberna India in Puerto Rico. He started playing bongos and other percussion instruments as a teenager for Rafael Cortijo and his band, Cortijo y Su Combo, which later became El Gran Combo.

Roena stayed with the group until 1969 when he decided to create his own orchestra, Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, which became known for mixing the sounds of salsa and jazz. His last recorded album was Señor Bongo in 2006, but Roena has recently started a multi-city tour in the United States this past August.

“Roberto was a man of the people,” Waldemar wrote. “He loved his people.”

Fellow Puerto Rican Tito Puente Jr. recognized Roena today by posting about him on social media.

“Another Legend of Latin Music got his wings 2day,” Puente Jr. wrote. “RIP. RIP ROBERTO ROENA.”