Trumpet Legend Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros Dies at 87

Courtesy Photo
Trumpet player Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros in 2010.

“Cuban Louis Armstrong” was a Latin jazz and salsa pioneer whose talent was matched by his zest for life

Trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, often called the “Cuban Louis Armstrong,” died Wednesday (Jan. 6) at age 87.

Armenteros began his long career performing in his native Cuba with the great Arsenio Rodríguez and forming a band with Cuban music icon Benny Moré, his cousin. He joined Machito’s orchestra at the height of New York’s Latin dance music scene, and laid the groundwork for the salsa sound in East Harlem, where he lived since 1957.

“I want to be remembered as the trumpet player who played the longest and who had the best time doing it,” Armenteros told a writer for Colombia’s El Tiempo in a 2008 interview.

By all accounts, Armenteros’ talent was matched only by his zest for life. A tireless performer and one of the most sought after sidemen in Latin music, he played in over 76 countries over a career that spanned more than 60 years. At age 85, he was quoted saying he still felt like a kid.

Armenteros performed with Nat King Cole, La Sonora Matancera, Tito Puente, Chico O’Farrill, Wynton Marsalis, and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, among many, many others. His playing is a highlight of the soundtrack of Andy Garcia’s movie about pre-Revolutionary Cuba, “Lost City.” He has been called the most innovative and “most  Cuban” of all Cuban trumpeters. Most recently, he had been performing with the New York salsa band Zon del Barrio.

The trumpeter gained his sweet nickname early in his career, when a girl confused him with the Cuban boxer Kid Chocolate; the name stuck.

Armenteros was married eight times, and had nine children, one son and eight daughters, six of whom live in Cuba.  

He liked to say the his real love was his silver trumpet.

“It’s my girlfriend, it’s my soul, my life, my heart,” he said in a 2013 interview with the Associated Press.

Armenteros dies of complication from prostate cancer. His life and music is to be celebrated at a memorial celebrating on April 4, 2016, on what would’ve been his 88th birthday, according to Zon del Barrio leader Aurora Flores.