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Tommy Olivencia

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Singer and bandleader Tommy Olivencia was a pioneer in the evolution of Puerto Rican salsa music. His legendary backing combo, la Primerisima, was the launching pad for future stars including Frankie Ruiz, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Marvin Santiago. Born Ángel Tomás Olivencia Pagán in the Santurce section of San Juan on May 15, 1938, he spent much of his adolescence in the city of Arecibo, where he learned to play trumpet. By his mid-teens Olivencia was a staple of local dance bands, and in 1960 founded his first group, la Primerisima Orchestra de Puerto Rico. With their brassy fusion of swing and Latin rhythms, la Primerisima would emerge as the premier Puerto Rican band of its generation, both for its influential sound as well as its virtuoso lineup -- at various times, Olivencia also employed the likes of Chamaco Ramirez, Sammy "El Rolo" González, Simon Perez, Paquito Guzmán, Ubaldo "Lalo" Rodriguez, Hector Tricoche, Carlos Alexis, Hector "Pichie" Perez, Paquito "Junior" Acosta, and Mel Martínez, effectively a who's who of salsa's formative years. Upon signing to the Inca label, Olivencia scored his first major hit with 1972's "Secuestro," inaugurating a series of smashes including 1974's "Juntos de Nuevo" and 1975's "Plante Bandera" -- across the span of four decades, he recorded close to two dozen LPs in all, yielding such salsa classics as "Casimira," "Como Lo Hacen," and "Trucutru." In August 2000, Olivencia celebrated his 40th anniversary in music with an all-star la Primerisima showcase at San Juan's Tito Puente Theater; he died from cardiac and renal failure at his Carolina home on September 22, 2006. ~ Jason Ankeny

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Birth Name:

Ángel Tomás Olivencia Pagán


May 15, 1938 in Santurce, Puerto Rico

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s