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Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: ‘It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba’

A new compilation revives the once ubiquitous, now mostly forgotten Latin-Jewish connection of the 1940s to the ’80s

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“Grossinger’s Cha Cha Cha,” by Tito Puente and His Orchestra
So, I’m playing a Tito Puente album a few years ago when my mother-in-law barges in—I mean, rings the bell politely—and schools me in Puente 101, the Bronx/Manhattan dance-party scene from the Hunts Point Palace to the Palladium and the Metronome. The former Esther Tissenbaum: a mambonik? Who knew? And if there was one “mambo king,” it was Tito Puente, the timbalero and bandleader at the forefront of every Latin music style from the 1940s on. During the summer, the bands and fans made it out of the sweltering city and had long-term residencies and vacations in the Catskills. It was win-win: steady paycheck for the bands, a chance for musicians and their followers to get out of the city, and the party never stopped. “Sometimes the husbands liked it, and sometimes they didn’t,” musician and writer Tania Grossinger, a distant cousin of the owners and the hotel’s one-time social director, told an interviewer, describing the often cozy setup between dance instructors, musicians, and hotel guests. In a similar vein, check out Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra’s tribute to Grossinger’s rival, “Mambo La Concord.”

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Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: ‘It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba’

A new compilation revives the once ubiquitous, now mostly forgotten Latin-Jewish connection of the 1940s to the ’80s