Tite Curet Alonso (1926-2003)

Tite Curet Alonso (Catalino Curet Alonso) was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico, on February 26, 1926 (some sources say February 12, 1026). Curet Alonso was raised in the Santurce area of San Juan, where his childhood friends were fellow musicians Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, and Daniel Santos. The New York Times writes, “He never did give up that day job, laboring in the Postal Service in Puerto Rico for more than 30 years, mainly as a clerk. But in the recording studio the biggest names in salsa, from Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe to Celia Cruz and La Lupe, all deferred to Catalino Curet Alonso, the man—known to all as Tite—who seemed to be able to write hits for them at will.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

“Tite was El Maestro, the essence of what we call salsa or Antillean or Caribbean music,” said the singer Cheo Feliciano, whose career was revived when his association with Mr. Curet began in 1970 and who went on to record 45 of Mr. Curet’s songs. “He didn’t play piano and only knew a couple of chords on the guitar. But he was a wellspring of expression who knew how to write songs that were made to measure for your style, the way a tailor makes a suit.”

A little over five years after Mr. Curet’s death at age 77, there has been a revival of interest in his music, on a pair of fronts. When Fania Records late last month released “Alma de Poeta” (“A Poet’s Soul”), a two-CD compilation of the original versions of 31 of his most popular compositions, it entered Billboard’s Latin music chart at No. 5 and immediately became the top-selling recording in Puerto Rico. Also in January, a settlement was announced in a complicated legal dispute over performance rights that since the mid-1990s had not only prevented hundreds of Mr. Curet’s best-known songs from being played by radio stations but also discouraged salsa artists from recording his compositions, or even playing them in concert. As a result, Curet-written standards like “Anacaona” and “Periódico de Ayer” (“Yesterday’s Paper”) are now back on the air and once again animating Caribbean dance floors.

[. . .] In its heyday, from the late 1960s through the 1970s, Fania Records, based in New York, was often called “the Motown of Salsa.” If that comparison is justified, as many historians and critics of Latin music think it is, then Mr. Curet was surely Fania’s Holland-Dozier-Holland, working in virtual anonymity but providing the hits that made international stars of the label’s singers.

His daughter, Hilda, a nurse who lives in Baltimore, estimates that Mr. Curet, who was largely self-taught, might have written as many as 2,000 songs in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. Boleros, the bomba and plena style typical of Puerto Rico, merengue, Cuban danzas and sones, even an adaptation of Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover”—Mr. Curet’s willingness to test and stretch genres seemed to know no limits. [. . .] Although Mr. Curet was a teenager when he began composing, he was able to turn his craft into a living only at a comparatively late date. He was already past 40 when he had his first big hit, “La Tirana” (“Tyrannical Woman”), with La Lupe. And even afterward, he not only held on to his post office job but also continued to write for Spanish-language newspapers and magazines in San Juan and New York.

One characteristic that made Mr. Curet’s compositions stand apart from the run-of-the-mill salsa tune was their willingness to address social and political problems. As Rubén Blades, the Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor and politician, put it in a telephone interview, “Tite wrote songs that were directed not just at the feet but also at the mind.”

Mr. Curet’s best-known song is probably “Anacaona,” about an Indian princess killed by Spanish conquistadors during their conquest of what is today the Dominican Republic. “Juan Albañil” was a portrait of a bricklayer too poor to visit the luxury hotels he helped build; “Galera Tres” protested violence and abuse in prisons; “Estampa Marina” portrayed the fisherman’s difficult life. [. . .] In songs like “Las Caras Lindas (de Mi Gente Negra),” which translates to “The Beautiful Faces (of My Black Folks),” written for Ismael Rivera but more recently also a hit for Susana Baca, Mr. Curet demonstrated a strong sense of racial consciousness and pride, much as James Brown was doing around then in the United States and Gilberto Gil in Brazil. “It wasn’t normal at the time he began doing it, but he always talked of what it meant to be black, and he had the courage to say he was proud of who he was,” Mr. Feliciano said. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/arts/music/18tite.html?_r=1&ref=music

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