Singer Pio Leiva, a Cuban music legend of the 20th century who formed part of the Grammy-winning “Buena Vista Social Club,” died on Thursday (March 23) in Havana of a heart attack. The 88-year-old had suffered a brain hemorrhage last Sunday (March 19).
“He was a glory of Cuban music and of the world,” comments his daughter and manager Rosalia Leiva. After the hemorrhage, Leiva canceled his appearance in a “Buena Vista Social Club” tour currently underway in Mexico.
His death follows those of fellow “Buena Vista” luminaries Ibrahim Ferrer a few weeks ago, and Compay Segundo three years earlier. These three were probably the last surviving specialists of the song variation known as “son montuno”.
Like them, Leiva did not find fame and fortune until late in life thanks to the Ry Cooder-inspired “Buena Vista” project, a collection of veteran Cuban musicians from the 50s and 60s golden age of Cuban song. The project included Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, who are still active.
His last album was recorded in Havana last year at the age of 87. “La Salud De Pio Leiva ” by Pio Leiva y Los Mentirosos was released in Cuba by Timba Records and by indie labels across the world, including Miami’s Pimienta Records in the United States. On Jan. 22, Leiva returned from a European tour in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands to promote the CD.
His last concert in Spain was last year at Madrid’s Aqualung Center with Grupo Compay Segundo, formed by Compay’s son Salvador.
Leiva was born on May 5, 1917, in Morón, Cuba. His professional career began in 1932 with the Conjunto Siboney de Morón, but like most musicians of his era he sang with several bands and orchestras, notably the Conjunto Riverside, Los Ases del Ritmo, and the Bebo Valdés band. He wrote many songs, and the great Beny Moré recorded his “Francisco Guayabal.”
Leiva was buried on Thursday in Havana’s Colón Cemetery.