Cachao, Mambo Musician, Dies

Israel "Cachao" Lopez, the bassist and composer credited with popularizing Latin music in the United States, lived a life in three acts.

The first act began when he was born into a musical family and he started playing for silent movies at the age of 9. Three years later he was playing bass with the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra.

When he joined a dance orchestra in 1937 with his older brother Orestes, Lopez was schooled in both classical music and the popular Cuban danzon. The Lopez brothers wrote an estimated 3,000 danzones for their group, Arcano y Sus Maravillas.

In 1938, they wrote a song called "Mambo," which was one of the first times the word was used in Afro-Cuban music.

When the Lopez brothers slowed down the beat on their song, it caused quite a stir on the dance floor. Israel and Orestes Lopez are credited with pioneering a sound that would later dominate Latin dance music.

After leaving Cuba in 1962, Lopez continued to perform with many top Latin bands in New York and eventually Las Vegas. But a move to Miami in 1978 started the second act of his life.

His past musical accomplishments no longer sustained him economically. For more than 10 years he was forced to play weddings and other social events as a faceless member of pick-up bands.

In the late 1980s younger Latin jazz musicians traveled to Miami to visit Lopez and seek his advice and inspiration. At a tribute concert in San Francisco in 1989, Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia introduced himself to the maestro and kick-started the third and final act of Lopez's career.

After that Lopez was treated as Afro-Cuban royalty at concerts and tributes in this country and throughout Latin America and Europe.

More records, more Grammys, more adulation followed throughout the 1990s and until his death at 89, Saturday in Coral Cables, Fla.

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