Tito Rodríguez [1923-1973]
Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Tito Rodríguez moved to New York in 1940 when his parents died. There he stayed with his older brother Johnny, a successful singer who had moved to New York several years previously. A talented musician in his own right, Tito soon got a job playing percussion in Xavier Cougat’s band.
In 1947 he formed his own dance band, Los Diablos del Mambo. He enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music to study vibraphone and percussion and later renamed his band the Tito Rodríguez Orchestra. In addition to his instrumental talents and leadership, Rodríguez’ satin voice and impeccable phrasing made him a popular singer in the 1950s.
His rivalry with Tito Puente was particularly intense, as commemorated in the song, “Avísale a Mi Contrario Que Aquí Estoy Yo" (Tell My Rival That I’m Right Here). Of the two prodigiously talented Titos, some fans preferred Rodríguez for his voice, while others thought Puente the better arranger and timbalero and the two bandleaders fought over top billing when they shared dates at venues like the Palladium Ballroom. Had Rodríguez not succumbed to leukemia at the relatively young age of 50, who knows how long they would have kept trying to outdo each other.