Latin Business Today’s Tina Trevino chats with Tito Rodriguez Jr about his family history, famous father and kicking off his own career.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series. We wish to thank Tomas Algarin a respected latin music historian, educator, writer, radio producer, stage performer/concert Emcee and also a steadfast Latin Business Today collaborator who helped facilitate this spotlight on Tito Rodriguez Jr. by author Tina Trevino. Enjoy!
Today I am thoroughly excited to interview Tito Rodriguez Jr, the son of legendary Puerto Rican singer and bandleader, Tito Rodriguez (born Pablo Rodríguez Lozada, January 4,1923 in Santurce, Puerto Rico). With his iconic father, and blended Puerto Rican/Japanese heritage, I know he will have many interesting stories to share about his life growing up as well as what his current passions and pursuits are.
Tito Jr. has been surrounded by music all his life. His recording career has had many starts and stops based on personal life choices and also the nature of the music industry. Today he is excited to give his all into taking the journey further for himself and his many fans. With January 2018’s release of his latest album, “Transicion”, he is in full touring and promotion mode. Scheduled venues to perform include Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, Milan, Puerto Rico, and September’s big NY event, a 50thanniversary celebration for Willie Colon.
Tito Rodriguez Jr.’s latest album “Transicion”, already an early candidate for the Latin Grammys.
The image of drumsticks in motion mimics the shape of fans, paying homage to his mother’s Japanese heritage.
Photo Credit: Joyce Michel
Tito Jr. starts by discussing the story of his father. Widely known to the public as “El Inolvidable”—The Unforgettable One, this nickname was given to his father based on one of his most popular songs, but the truth is, it still rings true today as iconic as he remains in the world of Latin music.
At age 13, Rodriguez signed his first recording contract with RCA, and he joined the group of Ladislao (El Maestro Ladí) Martínez, “Conjunto de Industrias Nativas”, as a singer.When he was 16 years old, he participated in a recording with the renowned Cuarteto Mayarí. In 1940, Rodríguez moved to New York City. In New York, Rodríguez was hired as a singer and bongó player for the orchestra of Enric Madriguera. In 1942, he joined the band of Xavier Cugat. He then started to branch out on his own. In the late ‘40s he made his first album with his own group, the Mambo Devils.
Tito gained popularity in the ‘50s when his band was playing alongside the other 2 widely popular musicians of the Palladium Ballroom’s golden era, Tito Puente and Machito. A rivalry developed between Rodriguez and Puente lasting for years and inspiring some of Rodriguez’s songs.
Tito Jr’s heritage is half Puerto Rican and half Japanese. His parents met in the ‘40s when his mother, Takeko known as Tobi Kei, was a singer signed to Decca Records and a chorus girl at the China Doll club. Because the China Doll was open later than the Palladium Ballroom, this was the musicians’ hangout spot after their gigs and that is how they met.
Their cultural mix broke so many barriers at the time even with the golden era of Latin music allowing people of all backgrounds (white, black, Jewish, Latino) to mix and mingle while dancing at the Palladium Ballroom.
His mother had been interned in a camp and then eventually ended up in NY where she started her career. Once she met Tito, she gave up her singing career to marry and raise a family with him and help build his career. She was well known in music circles as the dragon lady because to get to Tito, you had to go thru her.
With this stereotypical quiet but tough Asian persona, Tito Jr. says that she absolutely made her father’s career a success. She was the brains of the operation from writing contracts, bookkeeping, hiring talent and producing his television show in Puerto Rico. If not for her, he says his father would have never gotten to where he was. His father’s body of work is quite large encompassing about 72 to 73 albums (not including compilations), but unfortunately he passed away so young at age 50 to leukemia.
Tito Jr., was born in Little Neck, Queens in 1955 and raised there until 1967 with his older sister.
The family then decided to move to Puerto Rico where his father built a beautiful Japanese pagoda style home for his lovely wife. They lived there for 3 years until his father became ill and his mother decided they needed to return to the United States. They lived in Coral Gables, FL from 1971 to 1974 where there was a plethora of Latin culture and music.
Catching a bit of flack from his teachers in Puerto Rico, they were surprised that as the son of Tito Rodriguez, he was not raised fluently speaking the Spanish language, but being of half Puerto Rican descent and half Japanese, his mother did not speak the language and it was not common for it to be spoken in their home. Tito Jr. did not fully learn the language until his family moved to Puerto Rico and he was immersed in it.
Here, he attended private schooling where classes were taught in English, but he was required to take Spanish classes. Their television entertainment consisted of one UHF station in Puerto Rico that brought in tape delayed programming from the United States. Forced to watch Spanish shows, and subtitled and dubbed movies he quickly picked up the language.
Tito Jr. says that being the son of Tito Rodriguez was nothing different. He was just his dad.
The enormity of it only hit him when his father passed away. It was made apparent when he went to the Frank E. Campbell funeral home in NYC and saw thousands upon thousands of people there mourning his father and then needing to hold a second funeral in Puerto Rico as well. Tito Jr. says, “We knew he was famous but didn’t understand the level of what that meant. We had a good comfortable life but my parents never talked about finances with us”. Now in looking back at his life, Tito Jr. realizes that they were actually pretty well off but his parents downplayed it, instead talking about other people being the wealthy ones.
Tito Jr. has been around music since he was a child. His father would practice in their Little Neck, Queens basement. His father had a laid back, non-pushy approach about music with his son and he embraced it and enjoyed it.
When he was 7, he would go to the Palladium to watch his father rehearse. His father traveled 250 days out of the year, so he was hardly ever home. When the family moved to Puerto Rico, he was then able to go to his shows, rehearsals, be involved in the production of his father’s television show and go to recordings. That’s when he got hooked.
Next page- Tito’s parents were supportive…”go for it” and Podcast