El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Infobox musical artist
Name = El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Img_capt = El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
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Background = group_or_band
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Origin = Puerto Rico
Genre = Salsa music
Years_active = 1962–present
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URL = [http://www.elgrancombodepuertorico.net/website/index.php www.elgrancombodepuertorico.net]
Current_members =
Past_members =
Notable_instruments =
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, commonly known as El Gran Combo, is a Puerto Rican Salsa music orchestra. It is Puerto Rico's most successful musical group, and one of Salsa's most famous groups across Latin America. Since many of the genre's legendary singers have been members of the orchestra, the band has been given the moniker "La Universidad de la Salsa" ("The University of Salsa")

El Gran Combo was founded by Rafael Ithier in May 1962. Ithier is still, as of 2006, the orchestra's pianist and musical director. The group is currently promoting their latest album titled "Arroz con Habichuela" ("Rice and Beans") and they continuously tour around the world.


The Birth of El Gran Combo

Rafael Ithier had been a member of Rafael Cortijo's "Combo" orchestra, travelling to the eastern United States before forming El Gran Combo. For their first gig, the orchestra was signed by the legendary Cuban comedian, writer and businessman Alvarez Guedes, who hired them to support Dominican singer Joseito Mateo on one of his albums for his record company Gema Records. It was Alvarez Guedes himself who baptized them with the name of "El Gran Combo".

The members that met for this first incarnation were Ithier, Eddie Perez, Hector Santos, Rogelio "Kito" Velez, Martín Quiñones, Miguel Cruz and Roberto Roena. That first album was titled "Menéame Los Mangos, El Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo" ("Shake My Handles, or Shake My Mangoes, depending on the double meaning of the word Mango").

The group met again to define the foundations of the orchestra and they chose singers Daniel Vázquez, Pellín Rodríguez and Chiqui García. On May 21, 1962, El Gran Combo was heard for the first time on Puerto Rican radio. Later on, they became the on-studio musicians of the live television show, "La Taberna India", sponsored by India Beer.

After their live debut at Hotel La Concha in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Chiqui García left the orchestra. Sammy Ayala, who had also played with Ithier in the Cortijo orchestra, recommended the hiring of Andy Montañez. Felipe Rodríguez, another legendary Salsa singer, also followed the group's career closely, sometimes even making suggestions to Ithier.

First Albums

On November 20, 1963, El Gran Combo released their first group album, "Acángana", with Rodríguez and Montañez as leading voices. The album became a number one hit in New York, Panama and Puerto Rico. Their success opened doors for them in many Latin American markets and they gained an exclusivity spot in Puerto Rican television show "El Show de las 12". The album also reached gold status.

On 1964, musician Elías López joined the orchestra. However, the excess of exposure helped their demands to decline. Still, in 1967, their album "Boogaloo con el Gran Combo" also reached gold status. In 1969, Roena and López left the orchestra to form the "Apollo Sound" together. Despite all this, that same year the group is awarded with an "Agüeybana de Oro" Award in Puerto Rico.

Near death experience

On February 15, 1970, the members of "El Gran Combo" shared a near death experience. They were returning to Puerto Rico from Curaçao, and had to stop at Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo. One of the band's members had a bad feeling about the flight they were about to embark on, and the orchestra decided not to take that flight, which would turn out to be the Dominicana Airlines DC-9 that crashed off the Caribbean coast.

The 1970s

In 1970, their contract with Gema Records wasn't renewed. Despite offers from the renowned Motown label, El Gran Combo decided to produce their own albums. Their first album under their label, EGC, is titled "Estamos Primeros".

In 1971, El Gran Combo introduced the trombone to their list of instruments. The trombone was played by Fanny Ceballos. Soon after, their production named "De Punta a Punta" (slang for "From Coast to Coast") was released. In 1973, Pellín Rodriguez left the group to continue on with a solo career. Legendary Salsa musician Jerry Concepción and the well known sportscaster Rafael Bracero, friends of Ithier, recommended Ithier to replace Rodríguez with Charlie Aponte.

In 1973, El Gran Combo sang in front of 50,000 fans at the famous Yankee Stadium in New York City as the opening act for the Fania All Stars' sold out concert.

Montañez left the band in early 1977 and went to live in Venezuela, where he receive a good contract to replace Oscar D'León in another orchestra, Dimension Latina. Jerry Rivas was then chosen to join the orchestra. Both Rivas and Aponte are still members of the orchestra to this day. The success of this new duo was proved with their 1977 album "International" and 1978's "En Las Vegas" which reached gold record status.

In 1975, "El Gran Combo en Navidad", a Christmas album, was released, with Martín Quiñones appearing as Santa Claus in the album's cover. After a car accident in early 1977, Quiñones was replaced in the band by his son, Martín Quiñones Jr. He stayed until 1979, being replaced by Luis Díaz.

Recent years

The band continues to receive numerous awards in all Latin America. In 1984, they traveled to Alaska where they received a great welcome. Soon after they release their album titled "Breaking the Ice" which garnered them their first Grammy nomination.

In 1982 they celebrated their 20th anniversary playing at the Madison Square Garden. They also reached Europe that year playing in Paris, France.

In the early 90s, they were honored in the city of Madrid, Spain to open the decade in the right track. In March 29, 1992, they celebrated a huge concert in the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in front of 30,000 people.

The new millennium

In 2002, "El Gran Combo" celebrated their 40th anniversary with two sold-out concerts at the Ruben Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. This celebration spawned a renowned album that was recognized as one of the best of the year. A year later, they received a Grammy for Best Tropical Album.

As of 2006, the orchestra has released over 40 albums or CD's, and it has received many awards, including golden albums, a "Calendario de Plata" in Mexico, a "Golden Combo" in Colombia, a "Paoli Award" in their native Puerto Rico, a honorable distinction in Spain and countless others.

In 2006, they released their latest album titled "Arroz con Habichuela". It has already spawned three hit singles. The first one titled "No Hay Manera" ("There's No Way"), the title song, and "Si La Vez Por Ahí".

In 2007, El Gran Combo performed two massive concerts at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum to celebrate their 45 anniversary.


Current members


* Charlie Aponte (1973–present)
* Jerry Rivas (1977–present)
* Luis "Papo" Rosario (1980–present)


* Rafael Ithier - leader, director (1962–present); piano (1962–2006; except on live performances)
* Willie Sotelo piano (2006–present)
* Eddie Pérez - saxophone (1962–present)
* Freddie Miranda - saxophone (1980–present)
* Luis "Tati" Maldonado - trumpet (1970–present)
* Victor "Cano" González - trumpet(1980–present)
* Moisés Nogueras - trombone (1991–present)
* Freddy Rivera - bass guitar (1989–present)
* Domingo "Cuqui" Santos - timbales (1988–present)
* Miguel "Pollo" Torres - conga (1979–present)
* Richie Bastar - bongo (2001–present)
* Jorge Torres - sound engineer
* David Marrero - support personnel

Former members


* Pellín Rodríguez (1962–1973)
* Andy Montañez (1962–1977)
* Marcos Montañez (1973)
* "Chiqui" Rivera (1962)


* Milton Correa - timbales (1962–1970)
* Miguel Marrero - timbales (1970–1979)
* Edgardo Morales - timbales (1979–1988)
* Roberto Roena - bongos (1962–1969)
* Martín Quiñones - conga (1962–1977)
* Martín Quiñones, Jr. - conga (1962–1979)
* Luis Díaz - conga (1979)


* Miguel Cruz - bass guitar (1962–1975)
* Fernando Rivera - bass guitar (1975–1989)

Brass section

* Mike Torres - trumpet (1969)
* Epifanio "Fanny" Ceballos - trombone (1971–1991)
* Toñito Vázquez - trombone (1991)


* Hector Santos (1962–1969)
* Rogelio "Kito" Vélez (1962–1964)
* Daniel Vázquez (1962)
* Mickey Duchesne (1962 - 1969)
* Elias Lopez (1964–1969)
* Edwin Cortés (1969)
* "Baby" Serrano (1969–1984)
* José "Keko" Duchesne (1969–1980)
* Tommy Sánchez (1969)
* Gerardo "Grillo" Cruz (1969–1979)
* Miguel Laboy (1984 - ????)
* Mike Ramos (1969–1980)
* Edwin González (1979)
* Nelson Feliciano (1979–1980)
* Paquito Guzman (Coros; Recording Sessions 1971–1976)
* Elliot Romero (Coros; Recording Sessions 1973–1977)
* Yayo "El Indio" (Coros; Recording Sessions 1977–1979)
* Tito Henriquez (Coros; Recording Sessions 1978)

ee also

*List of famous Puerto Ricans

External links

* [http://www.elgrancombodepuertorico.net/website/index.php Official website]
* [http://www.salsaclasica.com/elgrancombo Biography, Discography, Photos, Lyrics (SalsaClasica.com)]

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