Born: May 26, 1919 in Encrucijada, Cuba
Died: Dec 8, 2003 in Havana, Cuba
Styles: Cuban Jazz, Son, Rhumba, Afro-Cuban, Latin Continuum, Latin Jazz
Ruben Gonzalez was one of the last of Cuba's great Afro-Cuban piano players. Although he had played and recorded with the band led by Enrique Jorrin, the creator of the cha-cha, for a quarter of a century, he had retired from music by the mid-'80s. Things began to change when Gonzalez recorded with the Afro-Cuban All Stars in 1996. The album, A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, released the following year, helped to inspire an international fascination for Afro-Cuban music and brought Gonzalez to the attention of a global audience. His performance on the Ry Cooder-produced album Buena Vista Social Club made him an international phenomenon. Signing a contract with Cooder's label, World Circuit, Gonzalez released his debut solo album, Introducing...Ruben Gonzalez, at the age of 78.
Showing great promise, as a pianist, from an early age, Gonzalez graduated from the Cienfuegos Conservatoire in 1934. Although he briefly attended medical school, hoping to become a doctor, the lure of music proved unsurmountable. Leaving school, Gonzalez moved to Havana to become a full-time musician in 1941. After recording with influential multi-instrumentalist Arsenio Rodriguez, Gonzalez joined Orquestra de los Hermanos, a group featuring Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. Following an extended period in Panama and Argentina, during which he worked with tango musicians, he returned to Havana and played with a series of cabaret bands. In the early '60s, Gonzalez joined Enrique Jorrin's band, remaining with the group until Jorrin's death. Although he assumed leadership of the band, Gonzalez was forced, by arthritis, to announce his retirement. He maintained a low-key presence until 1996. During his return, however, Gonzalez enjoyed the fame that was long overdue; he released two albums in the U.S, including 1997's Introducing... and 2000's Chanchullo. The octogenarian pianist died in December of 2003 in his home of Havana, Cuba.
- Craig Harris (All Music Guide)