Latin music exec Ralph Mercado dies at 67

Manager/promoter set industry standard for biz integration

MIAMI -- Music impresario Ralph Mercado, founder of legendary indie salsa label RMM and long known as the executive behind a new generation of tropical music, has died.

Mercado, who had battled cancer for two years, passed away at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was 67 years old.

A promoter and manager, Mercado founded the RMM label in 1992 as an extension of his RMM (Ralph Mercado Management) company, which he launched in 1972. The label would become home to more than 140 artists, including Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, La India, Tito Nieves and Domingo Quinones.

It is no exaggeration to say that practically every artist who had any impact in tropical music in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s had some affiliation with Mercado, either through his concert, management, film, production, label or publishing operation. Mercado's business model, integrating management with promotion and eventually, recording, is of course the template many labels seek to emulate today.

Born in 1941, Mercado began his career as a promoter as a teen, organizing parties and dances in his neighborhood. He was known then for his "waistline parties," where, according to his publicist, guys were admitted free but had to pay a penny per inch of their dates' waistline. Mercado's parties grew and so did the names he booked, eventually in his own club, including up-and-coming hot local acts like Eddie Palmieri, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.

That entrepreneurial spirit would mark Mercado's entire career as he evolved to become an established concert promoter.

In 1972, Mercado opened RMM Management, representing Palmieri and Ray Barretto in 1972, and continued to promote hugely popular dances and events.

In 1992, he founded RMM, the record label, and expanded into publishing and film. Mercado was honored with Billboard magazine's Lifetime Achievement award in 1999, becoming only one of a handful of executives recognized by a Billboard discretionary award.

In 2001, Mercado sold RMM Records to Universal for close to $18 million. At that point, RMM had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following a lawsuit.

Mercado kept RMM Filmworks, two music publishing houses and a restaurant, Babalu. He later relaunched his promotion business as Ralph Mercado Presents and reopened Club Broadway in Manhattan as LQ (the Latin Quarter).

Mercado is survived by his wife Cynthia and his five children, Debbie, Damaris, Melissa, Ralph Mercado III, Chanel, and his siblings, John Ayala, Richard Ayala and Angelica Kreiger, and his grandchildren.