Jimmy Sabater, Latin singer, boogaloo pioneer

NEW YORK — Jimmy Sabater, a singer and timbales player who was one of the architects of the hybrid Latin style known as boogaloo in the 1960s and ’70s, died Feb. 8 at his home in New York. He was 75.

The cause was complications of heart disease, said his son, Jimmy Sabater Jr.

Mr. Sabater, at one point one of the most revered vocalists in Latin music, rose to fame as the “velvet voice’’ while working with the influential New York bandleader Joe Cuba.


Mr. Sabater’s raspy voice and intimate style drew as much from doo-wop and crooners like Nat King Cole as from Puerto Rican danza. The Joe Cuba Sextet, with which he spent more than 20 years, was one of the most commercially successful Latin acts of the early 1960s and reached an even wider audience after incorporating elements of soul and funk into its sound.

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Mr. Sabater sang in Spanish and English, a factor that contributed to the group’s appeal.

Jaime Sabater Gonzalez was born in the Spanish Harlem section of Manhattan to parents who had migrated from Ponce, Puerto Rico. Among his neighbors when he was growing up were Tito Puente and the percussionist William Correa, professionally known as Willie Bobo, who lived next door to Mr. Sabater and started teaching him to play timbales drums using empty oatmeal containers.

Before long, Mr. Sabater was playing and singing with bands at local nightclubs in Harlem and at the Palladium Ballroom, the glamorous club that was a fulcrum for Afro-Caribbean music. He joined Cuba as a singer and timbales player in 1954.

The smooth ballad “To Be With You,’’ which became Mr. Sabater’s signature song, was one of the first of the Joe Cuba Sextet’s string of hits.


Hits like “Sock It to Me Baby’’ and the rollicking “Bang Bang’’ followed in 1967, cementing the band’s and Mr. Sabater’s crossover appeal by reaching a mainstream pop audience, as well as Latino and black listeners.

Mr. Sabater became the voice of the “bastard sound’’ of boogaloo, as Cuba called the style that his band pioneered, and his voice floated above stripped-down songs on which moving bass lines, vibraphone, and piano replaced the traditional brass sections.

The Joe Cuba Sextet continued to move deeper into funk and disco (Mr. Sabater even resurrected “To Be With You’’ as a disco remix in 1976), and the boogaloo craze dominated dance floors until the late 1970s, when the emerging salsa movement began to attract bigger audiences.

Mr. Sabater left the group in 1977 after a falling out with Cuba, whom he accused of taking undue credit and royalties for some hit songs. He released several solo albums, including the genre-defying “El Hijo de Teresa/Teresa’s Son.’’

Mr. Sabater’s marriage to Carmen Sabater ended in divorce. In addition to his son, he leaves a daughter, Terry, nine grandchildren, and a goddaughter, Debbie Garay.