Orlando Marin “The Last Mambo King”

May/June,  "The Beginning: Part Two"

Orlando Marin, the last Latin bandleader from the 50s, is very much alive and performs regularly. When the mambo exploded onto the dance scene in 1950, he fell in love with it.


Marin started his band in 1951. He was born and raised in the Bronx, where he found all the great musicians for his group. They played locally for a couple of years, until 1953, when they received an invitation to perform at Manhattan’s famous Palladium Ballroom on 53rd Street and Broadway. The Orlando Marin Band was the youngest group to perform there at the time, and began recording for Fiesta Records soon after.

As of 2013, Marin’s band has been in existence for sixty-two years, except for the two that he served in the United States Army, in Korea (1958-59). While in the service, Marin had the honor of representing the U.S. Army on television's famed Ed Sullivan Show. After being discharged, the bandleader signed with the late Al Santiago’s Alegre Records, garnering several hit albums for that iconic label. Marin, a member and the last bandleader of the Alegre All Stars, has gone on to record for various companies.

The Orlando Marin Orchestra was the first successful band to come out of the Bronx and represent mambo and salsa music worldwide.





© 2013 by Orlando Marin. Reprinted with permission.


When I first made my petition to God and asked for the chance to represent the Puerto Rican people through music, I had no idea what would or could happen. At this point in my life, I can tell you what did happen. In the beginning it was easy because I had no idea of what to do or what not to do.


I do know that by 1951, the mambo dance craze was very much inside of me, but I felt that I needed to do more. This is why I decided to form a small group of beginners to play the mambo. One of my best friends at that time was a schoolmate at P.S. 52 in the Bronx. His name was Manny Quintana. He liked to play congas, so I recruited him. We both lived on Dawson Street and Longwood Avenue, and had both been on the boxing team at Lynch Center near P.S. 52.  On the corner of Dawson Street was a record store called Casa Puente, which I later found out was owned by Tito Puente’s uncle. This is where I bought all my records.


I found a piano player in the schoolyard of P.S. 39, between Kelly and Beck Street, who always played stickball in the playground. His name was David Noriega. During our two rehearsals, David did very well. I arranged a third rehearsal at David’s house (because he had the piano), but he never showed up. I went to the schoolyard and there he was, playing stickball. I asked him what happened. He answered that he wasn't interested in playing piano—he’d rather play ball.


My heart was broken as I walked slowly up to Kelly Street and Longwood Avenue. This was the stickball field for my team, the Archers, which I had organized some years earlier. Some players were there practicing, and one asked, “Why are you so sad?” I told him the story about David the piano player, and how he had let me down. He then said to me, “You know there’s a young kid who lives down by home plate, on the right side, that plays piano. I think he lives on the second or third floor. You should check him out. His name is Eddie.“ 


I walked over to the building, climbed up the stairs and knocked on the door. A young kid’s voice asked, “Who’s there?”


I said, “I’m looking for Eddie.”


“I’m Eddie,” he said, opening the door. I told him my name and explained that I wanted to organize a mambo group. He then turned and informed his mother about what I wanted to do. She replied that it would be okay, as long as I picked him up and brought him back home. His full name was (and is) Eddie Palmieri. At the time, he was only fourteen, and the younger brother of the already famous Charlie Palmieri. Eddie's mother was very protective of him. She and his dad wanted to make sure that I’d take good care of him.


Soon after, Eddie and I began rehearsing and playing and learning music together. Since then we’ve been like family. I had the honor of being an usher at his wedding to Iraida Palmieri. More Bronx mambo/salsa to come—stay tuned! ◊◊◊


Stay tuned for the next installment of Orlando Marin “The Last Mambo King,” The Beginning: Part Three, in our upcoming July/Augustissue

Orlando Marin and his Orchestra perform at Willie's Steak House (1832 Westchester Avenue, in the Bronx), every first Wednesday of each month. Saturday, May 4th, Marin and his Orchestra perform at Gonzalez y Gonzalez (Mercer & Houston Streets, NYC).


It will be Marin's honor to represent Puert Rico, through his music, at this year's National Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 9th, 2013.

Orlando Marin “The Last Mambo King”

March/April,   "The Beginning: Part One"






© 2013 by Orlando Marin. Reprinted with permission.

Viva La Música NY Style….is a good way of describing the Orlando Marin Orchestra’s New York mambo/salsa sound. Most of this music originates from Cuba and has many names--rumba, guaguanco, mambo, descarga, mozambique, son montuno, cha cha cha, guajira, and danza, to name some.


Before the start of the mambo era in the 1950s, the term used to describe all these rhythms was “Latin American Music.”

In 1950, the mambo took the country by storm, and Perez Prado, a Cuban band leader, was crowned the “Mambo King.” Mr. Prado was based in California and his music was very commercial, but it sold big in the non-Hispanic communities. In New York, the top orchestra of the day was Machito and the Afro-Cubans, and close behind were Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente and various others.

I started my musical career as a child, dancing and singing. By age eight, I was taking lessons at the Brill building on 53rd Street and Broadway. I wanted to sing like Frank Sinatra and dance like Fred Astaire. My mother was the one who encouraged me to sing and dance. After moving to Longwood Avenue in 1945, after the end of World War II, my mother passed away.

At this point, I stopped going to singing and dance classes.

In those years, there was much discrimination towards Puerto Rican people. One night, coming home with my dad, I stopped at the newsstand on the corner of Prospect and Longwood Avenues to check out the Hit Parade magazine. As I glanced through the periodicals, I noticed a music magazine for black audiences. There were no such magazines for Hispanics. I then made a petition to God, saying, “Please, Lord, let me represent the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community through music so that it can bring us all together.” Years passed, and I devoted my time to playing stickball, handball and to drawing cartoon illustrations.

The Bronx went wild in 1950, when everyone began dancing the mambo. This awakened in me a desire to play timbales, even though I believed that no one would ever hire me. In 1951, with little knowledge of instrumentation, I decided to form a musical group, which included many young friends from the neighborhood.

Thus began the Orlando Marin Orchestra.   ◊◊◊

Stay tuned for Orlando Marin “The Last Mambo King,” The Beginning: Part Two, in our upcoming May/June issue.






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