Ibrahim Ferrer was 78.
Cuban son and bolero singer Ibrahim Ferrer, one of the stars of the 1990s Buena Vista Social Club CD series, died Saturday (Aug. 6) in Havana at 78. He will be buried today (Aug. 8).
Ferrer had returned three days earlier from a one-month tour of Europe. A week before his death he appeared in pain singing at a festival in Barcelona, Spain. He was hospitalised on Aug. 3 with gastroenteritis. "His condition worsened and he died of multiple organ failure," says his manager Daniel Florestan.
Like many fellow artists of the 1997 Grammy-winning album Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch), which has sold an estimated 7 million units worldwide, Ferrer lived an artistic rediscovery decades after initial successes were dimmed following Fidel Castro's 1959 Revolution.
In 1927, Ferrer was born in the middle of a social club dancefloor in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of son and traditional Cuban music forms. He was orphaned aged 12. Like many musicians of his generation, life was difficult; he sold candy and popcorn before joining a dance band, aged 14.
He moved to Havana in 1957, and though he played with Beny Moré, he did not receive the pre-revolutionary acclaim of BVSC colleagues such as guitarist/singer Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben González (who both died in the past two years), guitarist/singer Eliades Ochoa or singer Omara Portuondo.
All that changed when American guitarist Ry Cooder visited Havana in 1997 and recorded “Buena Vista Social Club,” which proved a boon to a generation of poor Cuban musicians in their 70s and 80s. In the 1990s, Ferrer worked shining shoes when the Cuban economy suffered badly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the original album, Cooder produced a Ferrer solo album, “Buena Vista Social Club presents... Ibrahim Ferrer,” which sold an estimated 1.5 million units.
In 2004, Ferrer won a Grammy for “Buenos Hermanos,” but U.S. anti-Cuban restrictions meant he could not travel to receive the award. Next month sees the launch of his last studio recorded CD of boleros, “Mi Sueño. A Bolero Songbook.”