Any discussion about popular Puerto Rican music is remiss without the name, TITE CURET ALONSO. In a career that spanned roughly 30 years, he was one of the most prolific and vital composers in Puerto Rico’s history.
Catalino Curet Alonso, better known as Tite Curet, was born in the municipality of Guayama in 1926. His mother was a seamstress and his father was a Spanish language teacher, trumpeter, and trombone player in Simon (“Pin”) Madera’s band and Guayama’s municipal band.
In 1928, at two, his parents divorced, and Tite Curet, his mother, and sister moved to the Barrio Obrero in the Santurce section of San Juan. There, he grew up immersed in music. “I used to drop in on (the guitarist) Tito Enriquez. I learned a lot from him. Also, I learned a lot from (the composer) Pedro Flores and (musician, composer) Rafael Hernandez.” Among his childhood friends were Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, and Daniel Santos.
Tite Curet received his primary and secondary education in Guayamo. After high school, he enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), where he studied journalism and sociology.
In 1960, he moved to New York and worked as a journalist for the newspaper, El Diario La Prensa. Tite Curet credits his experience as a journalist for contributing to his strengths as a composer. His lyrics were elegant, metered, and literate. “I study the singer’s style, how he sings. If he is good with his vowels and consonants, the way he pronounces and if he is credible when he sings what I write.”
Also, he drew inspiration from Brazilian music. “They have been my best teachers because they are the sorcerers of the half-tone and the effective use of words.” Tite Curet also studied music theory and solfege (a music education method used to teach aural skills, pitch, and sight-reading).
He composed his first tune at 15. In 1965, when Tite Curet was in his 40s, he met the vocalist, percussionist, bandleader Joe Quijano, and composed the hit, Efectivamente.
Initially, Fania Records hired Tite Curet as a promoter, but they quickly realized he was a skillful and gifted composer. His breakout tune was the worldwide hit La Gran Tirana, interpreted by La Lupe. Over the course of his career, he composed roughly 2000 songs. Of those, about 200 were hits, and 50 are salsa classics.
A short list of the artists who interpreted Tite Curet’s compositions include Joe Quijano, Airto Moreira, Iris Chacon, Willie Colon, Cheo Feliciano, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Tito Rodriguez, Olga Guillot, Mon Rivera, Hector Lavoe, Ray Barretto, Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, Ismael Miranda, Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentin, Marvin Santiago, Willie Rosario, Andy Montanez, Ismael Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, Tommy Olivencia, and Frankie Ruiz.
His most famous compositions include La Gran Tirana, Periodico de Ayer, La Caras Lindas, Anacaona, Isadora Duncan, El Hijo de Obatala, La Esencia del Guaganco, La Abolicion, Puro Teatro, Pirana, Puro Teatro, Brujeria, Carcajada Final, Los Entierros Pobres, Mi Triste Problema, Pena de Amor, Papel de Payaso, Pueblo Latino, Tu Loco y Yo Tranquilo and Franqueza Cruel among others.
Unbeknownst to many of his followers, despite his prowess as a songwriter, from 1949 to 1985 Tite Curet supported his family as a postal worker and writer for the magazine VEA.
The reason? In what El Nuevo Dia’s writer, Jaime Torres likened to “a crime,” Tite Curet’s music was banned from Puerto Rico’s airwaves for roughly 14 years by the publishing company, ACEMLA (Asociacion de Compositores y Editores de Musica Latinoamericana), who sued every venue (radio, T.V., CATV, municipalities, hotels, restaurants, and the Catholic Church) for copyright infringement of every song composed by Curet. As a result, said Torres, “an entire generation was deprived of the genius of this notable and creative songwriter.”
In 2009, the U.S. Federal Court in San Juan released 695 songs originally licensed to Fania Records. The remainder of Curet’s compositions is still in the hands of ACEMLA.
Tite Curet suffered a heart attack on August 5, 2003, in Baltimore, Maryland. His body was transported to Puerto Rico, where he was given a state funeral with an honor guard and wakes were held at three prestigious locations. He is buried in Santa Maria Magdelena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan.
Journalist, Auror Flores sums up Tite Curet’s career: “Tite Curet helped father the nascent salsa movement that was marking time in clave through the streets of Puerto Rico and Latin New York. Through news events, music, and lyrics, his words inspired hope, faith, solace, and joy during a time of social upheaval. In more than 2,000 tunes, Curet was the musical narrator of current events and national pride, romance, and religion. He wrote in a time when the social reality of the poor was in direct opposition to the political power line, leaving music as the life-support of optimism. Tite Curet reflected the face of a community in need of answers.”
During his lifetime Tite Curet received approximately 44 honors, prizes, and recognition ceremonies in and outside Puerto Rico for his meritorious contributions to Puerto Rican music and culture. In 1996, the University of Turabo awarded Curet an honorary doctorate in letters. In the words of Dr. Dennos Alicea Rodriguez, “Tite Curet Alonso continues the commitment of our university to the preservation of our most fundamental cultural values.”
He is survived by his wife, Hilda, daughter, Hilda de Los Angeles, and two grandchildren and a son, Eduardo, and three half-sisters.
In 2011 Banco Popular’s yearly holiday television special titled, Sono, Sono … Tite Curet! paid tribute to the iconic songwriter. Also, a life-size statue of Curet sits on his favorite bench in San Juan’s Plaza de Armas. Tite Curet’s spirit can take solace in the fact, not a day goes by in Puerto Rico or Latin America where his music is not played. Long live “El Maestro,” Tite Curet Alonso.
PHOTO Author, Tomás Peña and Tite Curet statue in San Juan’s Plaza de Armas (2019)
- Flores, Aurora – Tite Curet Alonso: A Man and His Music Liner Notes (E Music)
- Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks! A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Digital Domain, 2005)
- Vargas, Toro Cirilo – Tite Curet Alonso biography (Guiro y Maraca, Spring 2004)
- Wikipedia – Tite Curet Alonso biography
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