Colombian composer Jose Benito Barros, who gained worldwide renown for works like “La Piragua,” “El Pescador” and “Navidad Negra,” died May 12 in the coastal city of Santa Marta, Colombia. Barros was 95 years old.
Born in the small town of El Banco, on the Colombian coast, Barros would eventually see more than 800 of his works recorded, most of them imbued in the folklore of his region, including rhythms like cumbia, porro and vallenato.
Although Barros’ work was legendary inside Colombia, where many of his songs are virtual anthems, he also gained worldwide attention thanks to renditions of his songs by the likes of La Sonora Matancera.
Later in his life, Barros, who continued to actively compose until his death, would be rediscovered by a new generation of listeners thanks to recordings by Carlos Vives, among others.
Born into a poor family, Barros, an orphan, was raised by his sister and worked in a variety of jobs since he was a child. At 17, he got his musical break by winning a radio contest with one of his early compositions, “El Minero.”
Barros was one of the founders of the El Banco Cumbia Festival and, most importantly, one of the founding members of Colombia’s Society of Authors and Composers (SAYCO), over which he presided for several years.