Pio Leyva, a singer and composer in the Buena Vista Social Club band of veteran Cuban musicians, died today (March 23) of a heart attack in Havana. He was 88.
Leyva, who won a bongo contest at the age of six and made his singing debut in 1932, had suffered a stroke on Sunday and died early this morning in hospital, his daughter Rosalia said.
The colorful improviser of traditional Cuban “son” music was the latest of the famed band’s stars to pass away. Its oldest member, guitarist Compay Segundo, and pianist Ruben Gonzalez died in 2003, aged 95 and 84. Singer Ibrahim Ferrer died last year at the age of 78.
The largely forgotten musicians saw their careers suddenly relaunched when they recorded a jam session with guitarist Ry Cooder in 1996 that became the award-winning album credited to the Buena Vista Social Club.
The recording rekindled world interest in traditional Cuban music. Buena Vista was the name of a seniors-only social club in a western Havana neighborhood.
The touching story of their late-life rise to international fame was told in the Oscar-nominated documentary of the same name by German director Wim Wenders.
Leyva, born in 1917 in Moron in central Cuba, had a deep, country voice and was well known by the 1950s for singing in the bands of Cuban greats Benny More and Bebo Valdez.
“Music was his life. He almost sang yesterday,” daughter Rosalia said at his wake.
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