Latin Jazz Birthday: Willie Bobo

Feb 28, 2013

William Correa was born to Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, and was raised surrounded by music in El Barrio.  At 14 he began learning to play bongos, later graduating to conga, timbales and trap drums.  

In the late 1940s, when the Machito orchestra played at various New York venues , Willie became his bandboy just so he could gain admission.  Willie would often sit in on bongos during the last set of the night.  When Cuban percussionists Mongo Santamaría and Armando Peraza came to the United States,  Bobo's serious drum studies began.

"I was Mongo's English return he showed me the different shades of sounds the drum is capable of producing."

His childhood nickname was "Babalu."  During a recording session with jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams she called him "Willie Bobo" and the name stuck. He went on to work with Tito Puente, George Shearing,  and Cal Tjader before starting his own band to make the 1960s boogaloo hits "Spanish Grease" and "Fried Neckbones."  In 1969 he surprised everyone by moving to the West Coast.  He became a regular on Bill Cosby's TV shows, and one of his last appearances featured Cosby at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival.

Listen for Willie Bobo and more on Jazz Caliente, Thursdays at 2pm on KPLU's Mid Day Jazz!

Posted with thanks to Max Salazar and Latin Beat Magazine.