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Joe Cuba

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Biography

Born “Gilberto Miguel Calderón” in New York City, Cuba’s parents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City in the late 1920s and settled in Spanish Harlem, a Latino community located in Manhattan. Cuba was raised in an apartment building where his father had become the owner of a candy store located on the ground floor (street level floor). His father had organized a stickball club called the Devils. Stickball was the main sport activity of the neighborhood. After Cuba broke a leg he took up playing the conga and continued to practice with the conga between school and his free time. Eventually he graduated from high school and joined a band.[1]
Musical career

In 1950, when he was 19 years old, he played for J. Panama and also for a group called La Alfarona X. The group soon disbanded and Cuba enrolled in college to study law. While at college he attended a concert in which Tito Puente performed “Abaniquito”. He went up to Tito and introduced himself as a student and fan and soon they developed what was to become a lifetime friendship. This event motivated Cuba to organize his own band. In 1954, his agent recommended that he change the band’s name from the Jose Calderon Sextet to the Joe Cuba Sextet and the newly named Joe Cuba Sextet made their debut at the Stardust Ballroom.[1]

In 1962, Cuba recorded “To Be With You” with the vocals of Cheo Feliciano and Jimmy Sabater Sr… The band became popular in the New York Latin community. The lyrics to Cuba’s music used a mixture of Spanish and English, becoming an important part of the Nuyorican Movement.[2]

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