Eddie Palmieri and His Trombanga

Eddie Palmieri, also known as “the Sun of Latin Music,” is a pianist, bandleader, composer, and arranger recognized for developing “trombanga,” the trombone orchestration that greatly influenced salsa.

Side view of Eddie Palmieri smiling while he plays the keyboard and sings during a live performance. A young man plays the bass in the background
Eddie Palmieri performs with bassist Luques Curtis, 2013.

Photo by Jens Vajen, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Eduard Palmieri Maldonado was born in 1936 to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico. They had settled in East Harlem, New York City, sometimes called “El Barrio” or “Spanish Harlem” for its large Latino population of primarily Puerto Rican immigrants and descendants. Palmieri began playing the piano at age 8 before learning the timbales at 13 to play with his uncle. However, he is most known for his role as a pianist and bandleader.

Palmieri played piano in Latin dance ensembles with Eddie Forrester (early 1950s), Johnny Segui in (1955), Vicentico Valdes (1956), and Tito Rodríguez (1958). These experiences prepared him to form his own ensemble, La Perfecta, in 1961. La Perfecta is significant to salsa history because of the trombones that Palmieri used. The new sound he created—‘trombanga’—transformed the ‘charanga’ ensemble. Palmieri replaced the charanga violins with trombones and gave them the front line instead of trumpets. This gave the trombones the power to drive the melody. Additionally, he played piano with unique percussive energy. This combination of changes came to define Palmieri’s style and became instrumental in driving the development of salsa music through the 1960s and 70s.

Palmieri’s work has been fundamental to salsa and Latin music in the United States. Notably, his albums Harlem River Drive and Vámonos Pa'l Monte have been well recognized for his use of socially consious lyrics. The Smithsonian Institution recorded two of his performances for the National Museum of American History in 1988, and his song “Azucar Pa’ Ti” was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2009. As of 2023, he has won ten Grammys, most notably the first-ever Grammy for Best Latin Recording for The Sun of Latin Music in 1974. His accolades include an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music (1998), the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award (2013), and the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award (2013).

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This article was researched and written by Hermán Luis Chávez, NCPE Intern, Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.

Last updated: August 2, 2023