Havana—Ibrahim Ferrer, the vocalist who was a key component of Buena Vista Social Club, a group of older, traditional Cuban musicians that was the subject of a popular documentary film and Grammy-winning album in the late ’90s, died August 6. He was 78. The cause was said to be multiple organ failure.
Ferrer is credited, along with the other members of Buena Vista Social Club, with reviving Cuba’s traditional son music of the 1940s and ’50s. The group was assembled by American musician Ry Cooder.
Ferrer also released a number of solo albums in the wake of BVSC’s surprise success, including Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch), and ironically won a Latin Grammy for best new artist in 2000, although he had begun performing more than half a century earlier.
Ferrer was born Feb. 20, 1927 in Santiago, Cuba. He began singing professionally with local groups in 1941 and by the late ’50s, he was performing regularly with the bandleader Pacho Alonso. He also made guest appearances with other legendary names, including Benny More and Orquesta Chepin Chovén. Alonso’s group moved to Havana in 1959, and Ferrer remained with him for more than two decades.
By the early 1980s, Ferrer had retired, but he resurfaced to perform first with Afro Cuban All Stars in 1997 and then with Buena Vista. He subsequently enjoyed international success as a concert performer and recording artist.
Two other key members of Buena Vista group, singer Compay Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez, died in 2003.