Master of the cuatro, the guitar with five pairs of strings often called the national instrument of Puerto Rico, Yomo Toro brought traditional acoustic rhythms to the mainstream of popular Latin music and beyond. Toro, who died Saturday (June 30) in New York, recorded with, among others, Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Rondstadt, Gloria Estefan and David Byrne. His music was heard on the soundtrack of Woody Allen's "Bananas" and the children's series "Dora the Explorer." Most famously for Latin music fans, he was a member of the Fania Allstars. With Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, he played prominently on 1972's "Asalto Navideño," the hottest Christmas album ever made.
"Although his music and instrument were rooted in tradition he was ready for anything," said Rachel Faro, founder of Ashe Records, with whom Toro recorded "Celebremos Navidad", another successful holiday album, in 1996. "Flamenco, rock and roll, new age, avante-garde jazz, salsa. Yomo played it all and played it amazingly. He showed us all what a true master was in every sense of the word."
Born Víctor Guillermo Toro Vega Ramos Rodríguez Acosta in Guánica, Puerto Rico, he began playing guitar at the age of five. Toro came to New York in 1953 with his band Los Cuatro Aces.
In the 1960s, he recorded with the Trio Los Panchos on four albums, including one featuring Eydie Gormé.
New York's Spanish language Channel 41 aired "The Yomo Toro Variety Show" for ten years starting in the late sixties. He began recording with Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco's revolutionary New York salsa label Fania, appearing with the Larry Harlow Orchestra, and later as a member of the Fania Allstars. From the seventies to the nineties, Toro appeared on over 150 albums, recording more than 20 soloalbums for Fania and other labels.
Although Toro lived for over 50 years in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, he kept traditional Puerto Rican music alive. "He was an icon to the Puerto Rican people all over the world," said Faro, who visited Toro in the hospital a day before his death, from kidney failure. "Until the end, even lying in his hospital bed, he was playing the cuatro."
Toro is survived by his wife of 31 years, Minerva, four sisters and three brothers; his daughter Denise Toro, five grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.