Jimmy Sabater, Latin Soul Vocalist, Has Died

Jimmy Sabater's 1969 album Solo
Courtesy of the artist

Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Jimmy Sabater was the "velvet voice" of Latin soul. Sabater died on Wednesday, February 8 in New York City of natural causes, according to his son, Jimmy Sabater, Jr. He was 75 years old.

Sabater leaves behind an undersung yet influential catalog. Born in Puerto Rico, he became part of a generation of "Nuyorican" artists who grew up in post-war East Harlem and began his career as a timbelero. However, a chance set of circumstances in the mid-1950s lead Sabater to join forces with another young talent on the rise in New York's Latin music scene — Joe Cuba — and Sabater became Cuba's main English-language vocalist.

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Sabater set the standard as a Latin soul vocalist, mastering a smooth, intimate style that drew from both uptown, doo-wop street harmonies and the hushed crooning of Sinatra's ballads. His breakout hit came on "To Be With You," a bolero recorded on the Joe Cuba Sextette's 1962 album, Steppin' Out. (The song proved to be Sabater's signature tune; he even re-recorded it as a minor disco hit in 1976.)

In 1967, Sabater wrote what would become the biggest hit for the Joe Cuba Sextet: "Bang Bang," a rollicking blend of R&B and Afro-Cuban rhythms that helped launch the Latin boogaloo craze of the mid/late '60s.

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Boogaloo burned brightly but quickly and by the early 1970s, Sabater was navigating his way through salsa's emerging dominance. More than many of his boogaloo contemporaries, Sabater continued to thrive, both as a solo artist and as a collaborator with salsa giants such as Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and Charlie Palmieri.

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