Ismael Rivera

Ismael Rivera a.k.a. “Maelo”, a Puerto Rican singer and composer of Puerto Rican music, was born October 5, 1931. He died May 13, 1987. Rivera was born in Santurce (Puerto Rico), a section of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was the youngest of five children to Luis Rivera and Margarita Rivera. His father Luis was a carpenter, and his mother was a housewife. Rivera sang and played with sticks as a child. Rivera received his primary education from the Pedro G. Goyco Elementary school. He then studied carpentry at an vocational school. To help his family financially, he also worked in shoes and was a carpenter when he turned 16. He would spend his spare time with Rafael Cortijo, his best friend, and sing songs. La Fundacion Ismael Rivera Rivera and Cortijo joined El Conjunto Monterrey in 1948. Rivera played the conga, and Cortijo, the bongos. Rivera couldn’t work full-time as musician due to his carpentry work. Rivera joined the U.S. Army in 1952 but was soon discharged because he couldn’t speak English. He returned to Puerto Rico and, on the advice of Cortijo, went back to work as a singer with Orquesta Panamericana. Rivera recorded his first hits with Orquesta Panamericana. They included “El charlatan”, “Ya yo se”, and “La vieja en camisa”. Rivera was forced to leave the band after an altercation with another member of the band over a girl. He joined Cortijo’s Combo in 1954. Rivera’s fame as a singer and lead singer of Cortijo’s Combo grew. Rivera was elected sonero mayor in Cuba by Angel Maceda (owner of the club Bronx Casino in New York); this interview is based on Ismael’s account. The band visited New York City to play in the Palladium Ballroom. This is where Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, and Charlie Palmieri played. Rivera married Virginia Fuente in 1951. Rivera also had affairs with Gladis Serrano who was the wife Daniel Santos. Rivera was the father of five children, Ismael Jr., Carlos Jr., Margarita and Caridad. Rivera and Cortijo, along with his Combo, took part in Calipso, an European-produced movie, which starred Harry Belafonte. Rivera traveled with Cortijo’s Combo that also included Rafael Ithier, Roberto Roena and to Europe, Central, and South America. Rivera was arrested after a trip to Panama by the Cortijo combination. Later reports claimed that several band members had concealed illegal drug shipment, but Customs inspectors were still waiting. Rivera was the one to blame, with no other band members. This event caused the dissolution of Cortijo’s Combo. Rafael Ithier quickly regrouped the ex-members and created El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. Rivera, upon his release from prison, formed his own band, Ismael Rivera u0026 his Cachimbos. The band was a success for eight years. Rivera reunited Cortijo with “Juntos otra vez” Rivera later went solo and recorded “El Sonero Mayor”, and “Volare”. His greatest hit was “Las caras lindas de mi gente negra” by Tite Curet. Rivera performed at the Carnegie Hall on May 14, 1974. The concert was recorded live. Rivera sang “Dormir contigo”, a Bobby Capo song. His last public performance was in Paris in 1978, when he opened for Bob Marley. Rivera, a faithful pilgrim to the Black Christ procession in Portobelo (Panama), 1975-1985, wrote a song about him, affectionately called “El Nazareno”. Rivera was baptized in Panama as the “Brujo de Borinquen”. In 1982, Rivera lost Rafael Cortijo, his childhood friend. This tragedy affected Rivera so much that he couldn’t sing at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum tribute to Cortijo. Rivera actively participated in the creation of a museum that depicts the contributions of black Puerto Ricans to the culture of Puerto Rico. Ismael Rivera, who suffered a heart attack on May 13, 1987, died in Margarita’s arms. He was buried in Santurce (Puerto Rico) at Villa Palmeras Cemetery. From Wikipedia

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