Born in Puerto Rico, Quijano grew up playing mambo and stickball on Kelly Street in the Bronx, a breeding ground for New York Latin musicians of the era.
Joe Quijano, the singer, musician and bandleader known as “the king of pachanga,” died on Thursday (April 4) at age 83 in Puerto Rico, where he was born. Qijano’s widow, Grace Pérez, told San Juan newspaper El Nuevo Día that pneumonia caused his death, and that their daughter, Norma Mia Quijano, was at his side when he passed away.
At age seven, Quijano moved with family to New York City. They lived in The Bronx, first on Simpson Street, and then on Kelly Street, a breeding ground for musicians who bridged the mambo era and the fiery advent of the new Latin urban sound called salsa. He attended PS 52, the Kelly Street public school, which was also the alma mater of musicians including percussionist Ray Barretto and pianist Eddie Palmieri, who lived just up the street.
In the 1940s, the neighbourhood kids were influenced by the Cuban music playing on the radio, and at nearby dance clubs catering to the newly arrived and growing Puerto Rican population, Quijano explained to this writer in a phone interview this past January. “Then Boricuas, like Barretto, started playing the conga too, after watching Mongo Santamaria, who was Cuban. And there were the Puerto Rican timbales players like Tito Puente and Mike Collazo, the great timbalero who played with Tito Rodríguez. And the singers, like Tito Rodríguez himself," he said. "There was so much talent. Orquestras and smaller bands started coming out of the Bronx – allí se formó la rumba (the rumba formed there), like the Cubans say,” Quijano said, savouring the moment like it was yesterday.