Bebo Valdes, Legendary Cuban Pianist, Dies at 94
Bebo Valdes, the iconic Cuban pianist who staged a remarkable comeback in his seventies and went on to win five Grammy Awards for a succession of masterful Latin jazz recordings, has died. He was 94.
“Cuba has lost one of its greatest musicians, ever,” said Nat Chediak, the Miami-based producer who, with Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, produced the recordings that brought Valdes his late-life renown. “As his music eloquently displays, he loved Cuba dearly, to the very end.”
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Valdes died in Sweden, where he moved in 1964 after leaving Cuba when Fidel Castro took power. Valdes was known in Cuba as the pianist and musical director of the famed Club Tropicana in the 1940s and '50s and for inventing a style of Afro-Cuban dance music called the batanga. Upon departing the island, he left behind a musical legacy with his children, who include the renowned pianist Chucho Valdes and Cuban soul singer Mayra Caridad Valdes.
After years spent in obscurity playing piano in a restaurant near his Stockholm home, Valdes came back into the public eye in 1994 when Paquito de Rivera, another Cuban exile, brought him into the studio to record Bebo Rides Again, produced by the sax player.
Trueba subsequently featured Valdes in this Latin Jazz documentary Calle 54. Valdes went on to record a string of internationally successful albums with Trueba and Chediak. His music also was featured in Trueba’s animated film Chico & Rita, which was loosely based on Valdes’ life. The movie was nominated for an Oscar in 2012.
Valdes' last album was Bebo y Chucho Valdes: Juntos Para Siempre (Bebo and Chucho Valdes: Together Forever), on which the two giants performed classics of Cuban music , including compositions written by Bebo. He spent much of his last years in Spain, often in the company of Chucho, playing piano even after he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
He is survived by his wife, Rose-Marie Pehrso, and his seven children.
“Bebo was one with his music,” Chediak said. “ I can't recall a single day that went by without his playing the piano. In a way, it kept him alive.”