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Latin music has lost one of its greatest innovators. Israel Lopez, better known as Cachao, died at his home today in Coral Gables, Florida. Cachao was 90.

He is credited with popularizing Latin music in the United States. NPR's Felix Contreras has this remembrance.

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FELIX CONTRERAS: Israel Cachao Lopez 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. After joining a popular dance orchestra in 1937 with his older brother, they slowed down the tempo of the Cuban danzon and called their sound mambo.

Israel and Orestes Lopez are credited with pioneering a sound that would later dominate Latin dance music.

Mr. ISRAEL LOPEZ (Latin Music Innovator): (Through translator) We have all these types of music that are part of our roots: the contradance, the traditional rhythms such as the danzon, and many, many others. My brother and I took all these traditional sounds and turned them around, and that's how in 1937, we came up with the mambo.

CONTRERAS: After leaving Cuba in 1962, Lopez continued to perform with many top Latin bands in New York, then 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 over 10 years, he was forced to play weddings and other social events as a faceless member of pick-up bands.

At a tribute concert in 1989, Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia introduced himself to the maestro and kick-started the third and final act of Lopez's career, which included a Grammy win.

Mr. ANDY GARCIA (Actor): At that concert, I realized that he never had a concert like this in his hometown of Miami, so we did a concert in his honor in Miami, which I shot as a documentary, and then shortly thereafter, I spoke to Emilio Estefan and said listen, I'd like to record Cachao because he hadn't recorded a record since the mid-'70s of his own music. And he said I'll support you.

CONTRERAS: After that, Israel Cachao Lopez became Afro-Cuban musical royalty at concerts and tributes in this country and throughout Latin America and Europe. More records, more Grammys and more adulation followed throughout the '90s and into this century.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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