Museum Moment: The King of Latin Jazz Lives on Through His Timbales

The Smithsonian Marks Tito Puente's Centennial (April 20, 1923-June 1, 2000)
April 18, 2023

The Smithsonian´s National Museum of American History is marking the centennial of Ernest Anthony Puente Jr, better known as Tito Puente and considered “El Rey” or “The King” of Latin Music, by displaying his timbales in the museum's new “Entertainment Nation/Nación del Espectáculo” exhibition. Puente was a master percussionist known for his skill on the timbales and his energetic style as a bandleader. He brought the percussion section front-and-center in his orchestra, underscoring how these rhythmic patterns were the foundation of Latin Music and incorporated them into his mambo and Latin jazz compositions, earning him worldwide recognition. This drum set was made by Latin Percussion, Inc. in New Jersey and consists of timbales, two cowbells and a stand. Puente played these timbales during the 1996 closing ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta and he autographed them in both English and Spanish when he donated them to the Smithsonian later that year.

A percussionist, composer and bandleader, Puente is considered to be one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His iconic song “Oye Cómo Va,” continues to inspire generations of musicians. Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, Puente served in WWII and went on to study at Julliard School of Music. The museum’s collections also include a tuxedo Puente wore in performance featuring a silver jacket, along with several formal and candid photographs of Puente and his band, concert flyers and albums. Puente was interviewed by the museum’s late curator Marvette Pérez as a part of the museum’s Jazz Oral History Program. More information about Tito Puente's timbales can be found online.

Just as Puente signed one of the drumheads “con mucho cariño,” that same affection continues to extend to the memory of the King of Latin Jazz on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, PK–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.


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