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Fans Mourn Cuban Pianist Ruben Gonzalez

December 10, 2003

HAVANA (AP) _ Pianist Ruben Gonzalez, who charmed fans the world over as part of the Buena Vista Social Club band, was remembered for the Cuban essence of his music Tuesday, one day after succumbing to respiratory and kidney failure. He was 84.

Gonzalez ``represented a synthesis of what is Cuban in all of its expressions, as well as mastery on the piano,″ said Maria Elena Vinueza, director of music for Casa de las Americas, Cuba’s center of Latin American culture.

``He has been appreciated not only on the island, but in the entire world,″ Vinueza said, adding that ``he will always live on in the culture of this continent.″

More than 100 of Gonzalez’s family members and friends traveled to Havana’s historic Colon Cemetery late Tuesday afternoon for his funeral.

``Although his hands are now quiet on the keyboard, we will not stop listening to the music that Ruben Gonzalez left us,″ musicologist Lino Betancourt said during the final words at graveside. ``We will not forget Ruben Gonzalez as long as there are lovers of music.″

Singer Omara Portuondo, who performed with Gonzalez during his Buena Vista days, threw a bunch of white mariposas _ Cuba’s fragrant national flower _ onto the grey casket before it was lowered into the ground.

Although Gonzalez gained international fame in recent years for his work with the ``Buena Vista Social Club″ series of albums and movie, ``his work was much more than that,″ said Cuban musicologist Daniel Orozco.

``He had in is style a way of phrasing and rhythm-making ... that was truly singular,″ Orozco said.

In person, the smallish man with white hair was quite unassuming. But when he placed his gnarled hands on the keyboard he could capture an audience with his forceful tropical rhythms.

He gained fame as a solo musician with his albums ``Introducing ... Ruben Gonzalez″ in 1997 and ``Chanchullo,″ three years later.

Born in the central province of Santa Clara in 1919, Gonzalez had originally wanted to be a doctor but wound up studying piano at a conservatory in eastern city of Cienfuegos in 1934.

He moved to Havana to become a full-time musician in 1941, first recording with Arsenio Rodriguez, a pioneer in Cuban-rhythm orchestras of the time, then joining the Orquestra de Los Hermanos.

Beginning in the early 1960s Gonzalez played with the band led by Enrique Jorrin, the man who popularized the cha-cha. They stayed together until Jorrin’s death in the mid-1980s, and Gonzalez retired shortly thereafter.

Gonzalez had a chance meeting in 1996 in Havana with Ry Cooder, the man who produced the ``Buena Vista Social Club″ records of traditional Cuban ``son″ rhythms, and his career was reborn.

The best-known ``Buena Vista″ figure, Compay Segundo, died at age 95 in July. Born Maximo Francisco Repilado Munoz, Compay Segundo was a guitarist and the band’s lead singer.

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