The musician, a friend and contemporary of the late salsa giant Tito Puente, died from complications of a persistent bacterial infection at Mount Sinai Medical Center a day after doctors disconnected his life support, said Cheo Feliciano, a longtime friend and singer in the Joe Cuba Sextet. Cuba had fought the infection for several years.
Born Gilberto Calderon in 1931 in New York to a family from Puerto Rico, the band leader and conga player helped change the sound of salsa in the 1960s, Feliciano said. Until then, most popular salsa had been played by orchestras, he said. But Cuba led a six-member band with three singers who also played percussion and danced a routine.
He had a dynamic group," with a signature vibraphone-fronted sound that caused a craze because it was different," Feliciano said. Albums such as 1966's Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push incorporated elements of salsa, Latin jazz and R&B and featured lyrics in both English and Spanish.