Larry Harlow, a New York pianist and conductor of Jewish descent, was one of the great pioneers of salsa dura or brava that exploded in the 70s, along with such luminaries as Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, and Ray Barreto.
Larry Harlow, a New Yorker of Jewish descent who learned Spanish and even became a santero to become a pianist, conductor, and one of the most influential pioneers of modern salsa, died early Friday from kidney problems. He was 82 years old.
The news was disclosed by the family of the salsa icon.
Celebrities who have died in the first months of 2021
“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that my father, Larry Harlow, died last night of kidney complications. Dad was an immeasurable figure in many ways. Many of you knew him, knew who he was from me or from his own mouth. While it is a relief that he is no longer suffering or struggling due to not being able to live life on his own terms, just as he definitely did throughout his life, his departure creates a void, in my heart, in the world of the music and in all the lives that he touched in so many ways, “said his son Myles Harlow Kahn on Facebook.
Larry was one of the great pioneers of the salsa known as dura o brava, which exploded in New York in the early 70s along with Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Ray Barreto, Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez, and other luminaries.
This new genre soon caught fire in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other Latin American countries after the creation of the legendary Fania label, promoting a new generation of soneros and musicians such as Rubén Blades, Ismael Miranda, Héctor Lavoe, and Willie Colón.
“Larry was one of the smartest and most intellectually prepared artists I ever met in New York. Possessing an acid and direct sense of humor, it was a pleasure to chat with him on any type of subject, ”said Blades on Facebook. “The Wonderful Jew” is leaving but he leaves us his extensive contribution, something that will keep him alive in our souls and memories, always. ”
More about Celia Cruz
Larry Harlow was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 20, 1939, with the given name Lawrence Ira Kahn.
From a Jewish family and musician parents, his father was a professional bass player, and his opera singer mother, Larry excelled in music since he was a teenager. His love for Latin music and culture led him to study Afro-Cuban music in Cuba for two years, according to the biography on his website.
Upon his return to New York, he soon began to stand out as a pianist and conductor, especially after signing with Fania, a label that brought together the greatest salseros of that time both through individual and joint recordings.
His peers eventually accepted him and affectionately nicknamed him ‘The Wonderful Jew’, although at first, he was not always well received.
“Being the only non-Hispanic musician in that group and in that whole company (Fania), I felt a lot of prejudice during my career from promoters, record label people and other musicians at the same time, so it was not an easy career that I had to choose but I chose it because of my love for Latin music, ” said the musician in an interview with the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in 2009.
He eventually learned Spanish and gained more acceptance after becoming a santero.
“Look at you, I was the only non-Latino in the Fania All-Stars who was a santero. I gained a little respect, ”he said. “It also took me a while to learn Spanish properly. It was not easy. I hid from the interviews because I didn’t speak properly… I hired lyricists to write what I did – to translate what I had in mind. ”
Larry, who was also a producer and arranger, is remembered for songs such as ‘La carte’, ‘Abran paso’ and ‘Tumba y bongó’, as well as the salsa suite ‘La Raza Latina’ and the first salsa opera, ‘Hommy’.
“(Larry) made his way on his own with his prowess on the piano, organ, flute, and bass. He recorded more than 106 albums with various artists, and 50 of his own recordings under the Fania label and other labels, ”Fania said on Facebook.