Best known for hit songs “Agúzate,” “Sonido Bestial,” “Richie’s Jala-Jala,” “A Mi Manera” and “Bomba en Navidad,” the duo Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz have won three Grammy Awards and recorded some 500 songs since forming in 1963, according to the band’s website. The musicians are calling it quits to dedicate themselves to religious pursuits.
Ray, 71, a graduate of New York’s Julliard School of Music, and Cruz, 78, emerged from New York City’s Latin music scene in the mid-1960s, fusing elements of classical music, rock and jazz with Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
The two musicians have had a pivotal role popularizing salsa and bringing the genre to Colombia, according to journalist and writer Umberto Valverde, author of the book “Bomba Camará,” which derives its name from one of Ray’s and Cruz’s songs.
In 1968, Ray and Cruz performed at the Caseta Panamericana during the Feria de Cali in what would be considered “one of the most important milestones in the history of salsa music in Cali,” according to the Festival de Cali.
An article in the Colombian newspaper El País described the show as “an unprecedented mood of fiesta.” Valverde, who attended the show, remarked “That day all social classes began to dance salsa.”
Today, Cali is known as the “World Capital of Salsa” for its infatuation with the music. The city has more than 115 nightclubs dedicated exclusively to salsa music, 90 salsa dance academies and hosts several international salsa festivals each year.
Although the origin of the term “salsa” is debated, one popular theory is that it was coined by Venezuelan radio announcer Phidias Danilo Escalona to describe Ray’s and Cruz’s music.
In an interview, Escalona asked Ray to describe the music he and Cruz played. Ray told him it was like ketchup because it had a special flavor. But Escalona did not know what ketchup was.
“We explained to him that ketchup is the ‘salsa’ that is put on hamburgers to give them flavor,” said Cruz. “He thought for a moment and said: ‘Of course, the music of Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz is salsa!’”. The term took off, defining a new genre of music.
Ray and Cruz have had a special affinity for Colombia, regularly touring through the country that “adopted them as their own.” The salsa legends would compose two songs about the country, “Voy Pa’ Colombia” and “Para Ti Co- lombia.”
A law proposed in Colombia in 2009 seeking to promote salsa musicians and academies and declare December 25 as “National Salsa Day” stipulated that “salsa in Colombia starts with Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.”
The duo remained popular through the mid-1970s, earning the nickname the “Kings of Salsa” and releasing several gold and platinum albums. Ray and Cruz would also become original members of the Fania All-Stars, a salsa super group that included other salsa giants such as Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Hector Lavoe, Rubén Blades and others.
In 1974, the Ray and Cruz converted to Evangelical Christianity and six years later opened their first church, Casa de Alabanza, in Miami, declaring they would only “sing for Jesus Christ.” The salsa legends would release songs inspired by the Bible, including “Juan de la Ciudad” and “El Señor.”
Ray and Cruz broke up in 1991 after performing at Madison Square Garden in New York. They reunited in 1999.
At the 2006 Latin Grammy Awards, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded Ray and Cruz the academy’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” They have also won the “Conga de Oro,” or Golden Conga Award, which is given to the best musical groups during the Carnival celebration in Barranquilla.
The duo has embarked on several tours in recent years, but their upcoming show at the Jorge Eliécer Gaitán theatre, Oct 13, will mark the end of an era.
Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Theatre
Cra 7 No.22 -47.