Legendary Salsa Musician Roberto Roena Dies at Age 81

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Legendary salsa musician, Roberto Roena, has passed away at the age of 81 on Sept. 23, 2021. According to the family’s spokesperson, Andrés Waldemar — singer of the “Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound” orchestra —  he passed away “in the arms of his two daughters Brenda and Gladys and Waldemar.” His cause of death has not been disclosed.

He was born on Jan. 16, 1940 in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The salsa musician began performing as a bongocero in the Cortijo y su Combo group in his adolescent years. He performed on the Puerto Rican television show “La Taberna India” with his brother when they were children.

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Salsa orchestra leader Rafael Cortijo discovered him on the show and hired Roena to play with his band in the late 1950s.   Later he co-founded the group El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico — before which the group’s name was Cortijo y su Combo. Roena was part of this group from 1962 to 1969. He was also a member of the Fania All-Stars and leader of the Apollo Sound orchestra.

The two names the Apollo Sound orchestra is known as are “El Señor Bongó” and “El gran dancer.” He performed the hits “How do I make you understand” and “My disappointment.”

Roena’s death was originally reported by the Cali Salsa Museum in Colombia on the evening of September 23. He was supposed to perform at the museum during a free tribute his admirers could attend.

Many of his fans took to social media to pay their respects to the late salsa musician. Gabino Iglesias tweeted,” Just learned we lost Roberto Roena. I love his music so much he’s mentioned in Zero Saints and Coyote Songs. He was a salsa music giant: a superb percussionist, a wildly creative orchestra leader, and a great dancer. A true legend. Hasta siempre, maestro.”

He is survived by his children, grandchildren, family, and friends. Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi has declared a day of mourning for the late salsa musician. He has ordered all flags on public buildings to fly at half staff on Monday, September 27. May he rest in peace.

Written by Sheena Robertson


NBC News: Roberto Roena, legendary salsa musician, dies at age 81; by Nicole Acevedo

Chicago Tribune: Puerto Rican salsa singer Roberto Roena dies

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