Legendary Cuban-born percussionist Armando Peraza, who transformed himself from a homeless orphan to a world-recognized bongo and conga expert, passed away Monday, April 14, 2014 at a San Francisco hospital. Armando Peraza died at the age of 89.
The cause was pneumonia said his wife, Josephine Peraza. The percussionist had also battled diabetes for many years.
During his career, Armando worked with many afro-cuban latin jazz luminaries including Charlie Parker, George Shearing, Ernesto "Tito" Puente, Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, Rick James, Aretha Franklin, Jaco Pastorius, and Carlos Santana.
Officially, Armando Peraza was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1924. But he admitted that he made up a birth date to give to authorities when he arrived in New York City, USA in 1949 and was never sure of his exact age.
When Armando Peraza was three, his father died of pneumonia and at the age of seven he lost his mother to liver failure, according to a 2004 account in Latin Beat magazine. He stayed with relatives until he was twelve and then was out on his own, selling fruit and vegetables on the street and sleeping there as well.
As he grew older, he played semipro baseball and taught himself to play drums.
His break came when a baseball teammate's brother, singer with a group called Conjunto Kubavana, was in sudden need of a conga player and gave Armando the chance to perform.
Armando's intuitive and exuberant playing style translated into immediate work for big bands with Machito and Slim Gaillard. It was while touring with Gaillard that Armando Peraza first visited the city he would eventually call home, San Francisco, California.
Armando Peraza joined Carlos Santana's band in 1972, playing with the band for nearly two decades before parting ways in 1990.
In the 1990's and 2000's, Armando would make occasional guest appearances at concerts, festivals and percussion workshops.
Armando Peraza leaves behind a wide-ranging and robust catalog of music. He is survived by his wife Josephine, daughter Traci Williams, and three grandchildren.