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Thousands Mourn Tito Puente

June 5, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Saddened fans and fellow musicians lined up at a Manhattan funeral chapel Sunday to bid a fond farewell to their beloved El Rey, mambo king Tito Puente.

In expressing their love and admiration at an afternoon wake, mourners held Puerto Rican flags, wore T-shirts emblazoned with his image and listened to his music while trading memories of the flamboyant percussionist and bandleader outside Riverside Chapel.

Puente, a famed timbale player, died Wednesday at the age of 77.

``I have lost a brother, and like the rest of the world, I am deeply saddened,″ said fellow timbale player Jimmy Sabater, who said he’d known Puente for more than 50 years.

Thousands waited on line for as long as four hours to see their hero one last time, as he lay in a small chapel, dressed in a white suit with a pair of timbale sticks cradled in his arms.

``This is a great loss.... He was the king immortalized,″ said George Padilla, 41.

Hundreds of mourners waved Puerto Rican flags as cars draped with the flag drove past. Even a dog walked around the crowd wearing a Puerto Rican flag jacket and straw hat.

The service not only provided many with an opportunity to express national pride, it also allowed others to reflect upon Tito Puente’s remarkable ability to be both Puerto Rican and American; a talent that allowed him to seamlessly blend Latin music and American Jazz.

The crowd reveled at the sight of various luminaries from the salsa and merengue pantheon who periodically stopped in to pay their respects.

Memorial services were scheduled to continue Monday in Manhattan, with a funeral Tuesday morning in Nanuet.

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