Tito Rodríguez (January 4, 1923 – February 28, 1973) was a popular 1950s and 1960s Puerto Rican singer and bandleader. He is known by many fans as “El Inolvidable” (The Unforgettable One), a moniker based on his most popular interpretation, a song written by composer Julio Gutiérrez.
Tito Rodríguez (birth name: Pablo Rodríguez Lozada) was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, to a Puerto Rican father from San Sebastian and did work in Domincan Republic as land devloper Not as formally posted and mother from Holguin Cuba , became interested in music as a child. He was always surrounded by musical toys, such as guitars, pianos and trumpets. His older brother, Johnny Rodríguez was a popular song composer and bandleader, who inspired the younger Rodríguez to become a musician.
In 1936, 13 year old Tito Rodríguez joined the group of Ladislao (El Maestro Ladí) Martínez, “Conjunto de Industrias Nativas” as a singer and when he was 16 years old, he participated in a recording with the renowned Cuarteto Mayarí. In 1940, Rodríguez emigrated to New York City shortly after his parents, José and Severina died. He went to live with his brother Johnny, who had been living there since 1935.
In New York, Tito Rodríguez found a job as a singer and bongó player for the orchestra of Eric Madriguera. In 1941, he recorded “Amor Guajiro”, “Acércate Más” (Come Closer) and “Se Fue la Comparsa”. In 1942, Rodríguez joined the band of Xavier Cugat, and recorded “Bin, Bam, Bum” and “Ensalada de Congas” (Conga Salad).
Tito Rodríguez joined and served in the U.S. Army for one year. After he was discharged, he returned to New York where he joined the orchestra of José Curbelo. On one occasion, the band performed at the China Doll Cabaret. There he met a young Japanese chorus girl by the name of Tobi Kei (b. Takeku Kunimatsu, 23 January 1925, Bellingham, Washington, USA), who eventually became his wife.
In 1947, Tito Rodríguez made his “solo” debut and finally organized his own band, which he named “Los Diablos del Mambo”. In 1950, he enrolled in The Juilliard School of the Performing Arts, where he studied the vibraphone, xylophone and percussion. He renamed his band “Los Lobos del Mambo” and later he dropped the name altogether. That’s when he decided to go with the name “The Tito Rodríguez Orchestra”. The first song that he recorded under the band’s new name which became a “hit” was “Bésame La Bembita” (Kiss My Big Lips). In 1952, he was honored for having developed his own unique singing style by the “Century Conservatory of Music of New York”. His orchestra won the “Gran Trofeo Award” for two consecutive years.
In 1953, Tito Rodríguez heard a percussionist by the name of Cheo Feliciano. Rodríguez was so impressed with Feliciano that he offered him a job in his band. Rodríguez discovered that Feliciano also knew how to sing and gave him an opportunity to sing at the popular Palladium Ballroom. Eventually, Feliciano went to work for another band, but the friendship between the two lasted for the rest of their lives. Among the other orchestras that played at the Palladium were the Machito, Tito Puente and Charlie Palmieri orchestras. A rivalry, which was to last for years, quickly developed between the two Titos. The popular Latin music craze at the time was the cha-cha-chá and the mambo.
The feud between the two Titos was reflected on some of Rodriguez’s recordings. “Avísale a Mi Contrario [Que Aquí Estoy Yo]” (Tell My Counterpart That I Am Here) and “Que Pena Me Da” (I Pity You), are just two examples of the bad feelings between them.
Tito Rodríguez also feuded with future bandleader Johnny Pacheco, who was once Rodríguez’s musical arranger. When Pacheco went solo, he did three arrangements on hire for Puente. Since his financial situation at the time was not healthy, Pacheco later visited the band’s rehearsal studio to ask Rodríguez (who was not at the room at the time) for further work, then left. When Rodríguez returned, not only did he forbid his musicians to make any further contact with Pacheco, he wrote “A mí no me importas tú” (“I don’t care about you”), an indirect jab against Pacheco which eventually became a popular salsa single.
With the beginning of the 1960s, all that was going to change with the popularity gained by rock music. Latin bands began to switch their styles and started playing more salsa and boogaloo, which was more attractive to Latin youth of the day. Rodríguez then tried his luck with boleros and recorded various albums, which gave way to various hit songs, particularly “Inolvidable” (Unforgettable), composed by Julio Gutiérrez, and “En La Soledad”, (In Solitude), composed by Puchi Balseiro, which are considered by many to be his most successful songs. They sold over a million and a half copies world-wide. He also produced records for other groups, such as Los Hispanos and Los Montemar.
Tito Rodríguez returned to Puerto Rico in 1970 and built a Japanese-style house in Santurce, where he lived with his family. Rodríguez produced his own television show called “El Show de Tito Rodríguez” which was transmitted through San Juan’s television Channel 7 (whose call letters were WRIK-TV at the time). Among the special guest stars that appeared on his show were Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, Shirley Bassey and Orlando Cepeda. Rodríguez also founded his own recording studio/label called TR Records.
Rodríguez’s last public appearance was with Machito and his band on February 2, 1973 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tito Rodríguez died of leukemia on February 28, 1973.