Godfather of Salsa Gets His ‘Way’

Arsenio Rodriguez, the “godfather of salsa,” may have died 43 years, but his impact on Longwood is now set in stone, or more literally, on a street sign. Hunts Point Express’ Joe Hirsch reports that Dawson Street in the southwestern Bronx neighborhood, between Intervale and Longwood avenues, will now have an additional name: Arsenio Rodriguez Way.

Percussionist Candido Camero (left) and pianist Larry Harlow (right) came out to the street renaming for the "godfather of salsa" Arsenio Rodriguez. (Photo by Joe Hirsch via Hunts Point Express)

Percussionist Candido Camero (left) and pianist Larry Harlow (right) came out to the street renaming in honor of the “godfather of salsa” Arsenio Rodriguez. (Photo by Joe Hirsch via Hunts Point Express)

The  late musician, born in Cuba in 1911, in the 1960s lived in a building located on what is now Rainey Park, which is adjacent to the street named in his honor.

Rodriguez, who was known as El Ciego Maravilloso, or the Blind Marvel, died in 1970 at the age of 59, after having earned a reputation as a founder of the conjunto music by adding keyboards, harmonized brass and the conga drums to Cuban bands. With instrumental and rhythmic variations, the style he innovated later evolved into salsa.

At the renaming ceremony on June 6, salsa icons told of the impact the “songwriter, arranger, bandleader and tres guitar virtuoso” had on music.

“Without Arsenio, there’d be no piano, no three trumpets in Latin music,” said Grammy-nominated Latin music pianist Larry Harlow, who recorded one of his best known LPs, A Tribute to Arsenio Rodriguez, in 1972.

Trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, who played in Arsenio Rodriguez’s conjunto in Cuba, attended the ceremony, as did Rodriguez’s niece, Xiomara Travieso, who lives near her late uncle's building. (Photo via Hunts Point Express)

Trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, who played in Arsenio Rodriguez’s conjunto in Cuba, attended the ceremony, as did Rodriguez’s niece, Xiomara Travieso, who lives near her late uncle’s old building. (Photo via Hunts Point Express)

Rodriguez played at clubs in the area and still has family in the neighborhood.

When he was a Longwood resident, Rodriguez played at renowned local nightclubs like The Tropicana, The Hunts Point Palace and Club Cubano Inter-Americano, as well as the Palladium in Manhattan. His niece, Xiomara Travieso, 60, still lives in Longwood, a few blocks from where her uncle lived.

Rodriguez devotee Jose Rafael Mendez had been pushing the city for this memorial for years and finally started getting some traction last year.

The push to revive Rodriguez’s memory gained momentum last year with a concert honoring him at 52 Park in Longwood, the making of The Legend of Arsenio, a documentary, and a two-day tribute at the New York Hilton, with concerts, discussions, and exhibitions focusing on Rodriguez’s massive influence on the New York music scene.