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Puerto Ricans pack Ray Barretto’s funeral

Mourners danced to congo drums beats to celebrate famed percussionist
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of Puerto Ricans danced to the beat of conga drums on Friday at a memorial for Ray Barretto, a world-famous percussionist known for integrating the conga drum into jazz.

Musicians Ismael Miranda, Roberto Roena and Humberto Ramirez regaled fans with live performances of the Grammy-winning artist’s music at the ceremony in the Old San Juan district. A Catholic mass was held earlier Friday.

“We came to give thanks for the course he set, for his music and in some small way to thank him for his work,” said Guillermo Ramos, 38.

Barretto, 76, died last week at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey after undergoing heart bypass surgery in January.

He grew up in New York City listening to the music of Puerto Rico and to the jazz of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman.

In the late 1950s, Barretto played in Tito Puente’s band, and his popularity grew in the New York jazz scene. Over the years, he recorded with such musicians as Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Cal Tjader and Dizzy Gillespie.

Barretto won a Grammy for best Tropical Latin performance in 1989 for the song “Ritmo en el Corazon” with Celia Cruz.

The following year, he was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Last month, he was named one of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters of 2006, the nation’s highest jazz honor.

Barretto’s 1979 album, “Ricanstruction,” is considered one of the classic salsa recordings.