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July 28, 2007

Obituary: Tito Gómez 1948 - 2007

by John Child (

In tribute to the recently deceased Tito Gómez, we repost an updated version of John Child's discographic profile of the matchless Puerto Rican sonero. A somewhat nomadic artist, before he began his solo career in earnest, Tito recorded with key bands in Puerto Rico, New York, Venezuela and Colombia, including Sonora Ponceña, Ray Barretto and Grupo Niche. "Tito was a man of much character, had the magic of a great singer and was very jovial…(his passing) is a great blow for us," said Jairo Varela, leader of Grupo Niche, with whom Gómez was touring at the time of his death.

Tito Gómez

GÓMEZ, Tito (b Humberto Luis Gómez, 9 Apr. '48, Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico; d 11 June '07, Cali, Colombia) Sonero (improvising salsa singer) with a haunting, melancholic timbre. Sang with Conjunto Antoanetti before joining Sonora Ponceña as a co-lead vocalist '68; sang on Ponceña's albums Hachero Pa' Un Palo, Fuego En El 23!, Algo De Locura, Navidad Criolla (Xmas LP), Desde Puerto Rico a Nueva York, Sonora Ponceña '69-72, all on Inca label; the last two LPs were made in NYC, produced by Larry Harlow. Ponceña trumpeter Joe Rodríguez split taking Gómez and percussionist Miguel "Mikey" Ortiz with him '73 to form La Terrifica, new band debuted with eponymous LP '74 produced by Harlow. Gómez departed, briefly joined Ray Barretto's band, shared lead vocals with Rubén Blades on Grammy nominated Barretto '75 on Fania, Barretto's biggest hit LP up to that point, and Barretto Live: Tomorrow '76 on Atlantic.

Made his solo debut with Para Gozar Borinquen '77 on Inca produced by Harlow including Blades' penned hit "Estas Caliente." Returned to sing with Ponceña on their turning-point LP Explorando '78 on Inca; sang lead on the hit track "Moreno Soy" (I Am Brown): a testimony of Puerto Rico's racially mixed identity; but he only sang in the chorus on their next LP La Orquesta De Mi Tierra '78 on Inca, before leaving to record Tierra, Música y Sentimiento '79 on Nuestra with Tito Valentín.

Relocated to Venezuela to join La Amistad (The Friendship), a band organised '79 by two ex-Dimensión Latina members: singer Rodrigo Mendoza and pianist Jesús "Chuito" Narváez together with talented flautist / arranger Naty; Gómez recorded Presente y Pasado '79 and El Poder De…La Amistad '80 on Velvet with La Amistad before returning to Puerto Rico to make Brujerias '82 on Nuestra with Valentín, Eso Me Conviene '84 on True Love Records with La Terrifica (his vocals were uncredited), La Máquina De Los 80 '85 (produced by Johnny Ortiz with various lead singers including Pedro Arroyo, Junior González and Kim De Los Santos) and The Entertainer '85 on Telerecord with Rubby Haddock.

First saw Colombia's internationally successful salsa band Grupo Niche performing in '85 at Abuelo Pachanguero nightclub in Queens, New York. Leader Jairo Varela asked him to sing with the band. He adapted so quickly to their distinctive vocal style that Varela immediately offered him $5,000 and a new wardrobe and invited him to relocate to Colombia as a lead singer. Debuted as co-lead vocalist on Niche's album Me Huele A Matrimonio '86 on Codiscos; Niche and Gómez's plaintive voice blended splendidly; went on to sing on Grupo Niche con Cuerdas '86 on Faisán, Historia Musical '87 on Combo, Tapando El Hueco '88 on Clave and Sutil Y Contundente '89 on CBS (subsequently Sony); made his UK debut with Niche Oct. '89.

Left Niche to resume his solo career, releasing Billboard tropical / salsa Top 10 hit Un Nuevo Horizonte '91 (including Puerto Rican chart-topping single "Dejala" in duet with salsa romántica star Tito Rojas), Agradecimiento '93, Recogiendo Frutos '95 (including "Dejala [2nd parte]" with Rojas) and Volver '97, all on MP. Also participated in MP All Stars '92. Stole the show at the UK's first salsa stadium event, the Salsa Ball at London's Olympia, Sept. '96.

Kicked off the new millennium with his fifth MP release Quién Nos Iba A Decir?, including a duet with Rojas on the title track, followed by Las Paginas De Mi Vida'01. After a spell in prison for transporting counterfeit money, he made his MP comeback in 2004 with Comenzando En Cero; also performed that year at Toda Una Vida, a concert tribute to Ray Barretto.

Editor's Note: In what might have been Gómez' final performance, Codiscos released the 2007 live concert Un Legado Musical: Lo Nuevo Y Lo Mejor, Live In Cali Colombia - DVD & CD Set.

Reportedly he suffered from diabetes and bronchitis, and recently gained weight. Nevertheless, he continued to perform and was in Cali, Colombia, as part of a reunion tour with Grupo Niche when he suddenly fell ill and died of a heart attack on June 11, 2007, much to the surprise of colleagues who said he had been in customary good voice and spirits. Varela assisted with the cost of transferring his body to Puerto Rico, where he was buried in his native town next to his mother.

According to obituaries, Gómez is survived by his last wife, the young caleña Sandra Moreno (he was a US citizen and obtained Colombian residence after their marriage), eight or ten children (accounts vary about the number) and an unspecified number of grandchildren.

This is a revised version of one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child ( for The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd Edition, edit. Donald Clarke; Penguin Books; 1998; 1524 pages; US$22.95, UK£16.99.

They are published on the Descarga website by kind permission of Donald Clarke.

Check out these related pieces in The Descarga Journal Archives:

Profile: Frankie Papo Lucca
by John Child, September 30, 1999
A discographic profile of the talented Puerto Rican pianist, arranger, producer and veteran musical director of Sonora Ponceña. Continues here:

Obituary: Ray Barretto
by John Child, April 18, 2006
Ray Barretto, the hard-hitting conga player, bandleader, songwriter and arranger, sadly passed away on February 17th 2006. "Ray was like the quintessential Nuyorican," said percussionist and educator Bobby Sanabria. "For us in our community, he was a shining example of how somebody from humble beginnings can rise and achieve greatness." In tribute, John Child offers a revised version of a discographic profile he originally prepared in the early 1990s, followed by an extensive selection of albums Ray made as a leader, sideman and session musician. Continues here here:

Profile: Grupo Niche
by John Child, July 14, 2001
Distinctive salsa band based in Cali, Colombia whose leader is musical director, arranger and producer, Jairo Varela. Continues here:

© and John Child, produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca , He is an editor and journalist for the Latin music website and a contributor to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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