Willie Sotelo, Member of El Gran Combo, Dies at 61

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Willie Sotelo was the pianist and musical director for the Puerto Rican iconic salsa band El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico ,. He died Friday (June 3rd) in Puerto Rico. The musician, who was 61 years old, died of “health complications.”

The news of Sotelo’s death was announced in a press release that was sent to media and posted on El Gran Combo’s Instagram account.

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“Maestro Willie Sotelo, musical director of El Gran Combo, has died due to health complications at 61 years old. His wife Jannette Navarro, his daughter Wilmalie Sotelo, his other relatives and maestro Rafael Ithier and his orchestra companions ask for space to deal with this difficult process and thank all your demonstrations of support and prayers,” read the statement.

According to Puerto Rican daily Primera Hora, Sotelo had cancer and had been hospitalized.

Sotelo’s passing comes as El Gran Combo (whose name literally translates to The Big Combo) was preparing to launch its 60-year anniversary tour, underscoring the band’s resiliency and fandom despite changing trends. The trek is scheduled to begin on June 10-11 in Pennsylvania and Maryland. At press time, no changes were made.

Sotelo played in multiple salsa and merengue groups in the island before joining El Gran Combo in 2006. Rafael Ithier, the founding bandleader and pianist, began looking for a successor to lead El Gran Combo. Sotelo was initially recruited to be the band’s piano player, but he was eventually promoted as musical director.

“It’s a huge responsibility and a great honor to sit in Don Rafa’s chair, play his instrument, play his music and try to preserve the style and sound,” Sotelo said at the time, according to El Nuevo Dia.

Willy Rodriguez was co-founder of International Salsa Museum and said that Sotelo’s legacy will be remembered for a long time.

“As both a pianist and a Musical Director, I know the importance of a musical director,” he said to Billboard. “Mr. “Mr. Although his musical direction, piano playing, and way of being will be greatly missed, his spirit and legacy will last forever. ISM will ensure that .”

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News about funeral arrangements will soon be announced.

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