Ibrahim Ferrer, a leading voice with the hugely popular Buena Vista Social Club of vintage Cuban performers, died Saturday, his representative in Cuba said. He was 78.
The Montuno production company did not give a cause of death, but Ferrer’s colleagues said he suffered from emphysema and was feeling ill earlier in the week.
Known for his trademark cap and graying mustache, Ferrer was a wiry, animated figure who clearly enjoyed performing Cuba’s traditional “son” music of the 1940s and 1950s for new generations of fans.
Among a group of older Cuban performers recruited by U.S. musician Ry Cooder, Ferrer performed on the “Buena Vista Social Club album” that won a Grammy in 1999, and was among those appearing in the film of the same name.
“I felt like he was my brother,” said fellow Buena Vista performer, the guitarist Manuel Galban. “He was a great musician and a great companion.”
Also in 1999, Ferrer was featured in one of a string of albums that followed, “Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer,” and won a Latin Grammy for best new artist in 2000.
Two other well-known members of the original Buena Vista group, singer Compay Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez, died in 2003.
Originally from Cuba’s eastern city of Santiago, Ferrer was born on Feb. 20, 1927, during a dance at a social club after his mother unexpectedly went into labor.
Ferrer was still a boy when he began singing professional with Santiago groups in 1941. By the late 1950s, he was a well-known singer performing regularly with the late, great bandleader Pacho Alonso.
He also made guest appearances with other legendary names, including Benny More and Orquesta de Chepin.
Alonso’s group moved to Havana in 1959, and Ferrer came along, remaining with the group for more than two decades. By the early 1980s, Ferrer had left the musical scene, but came out of retirement to perform with the Buena Vista group.