Ricardo "Richie" Ray was born Ricardo Maldonado, on February 15, 1945, in Brooklyn, New York of Puerto Rican parents. Known as the "king of salsa", this bandleader, composer, arranger and virtuoso pianist is, in the minds of all who know about salsa music, was virtually inseparable from his life-long friend Bobby Cruz for more than 25 years.
Ray's music training started on the piano by the time he was seven years old. The long time partnership with Cruz began just five years later in 1957 when Ray played played bass in a group led by Cruz. Ray went on to attend the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, the high school of Performing Arts and the Juilliard School of Music; further developing his musical training and refinining his talents. He was well versed in various Latin music genres popular at that time including guajira, the cha-cha-chá, bolero, and others.
Ray left Juilliard after one year to organize and dedicate himself to his own band, which included his friend Cruz as lead vocalist. He signed with Fonseca Records and released his debute album Ricardo Ray Arrives in 1964. The album included the outstanding hit song "Mambo Jazz", which Ray and Cruz reworked for later releases. The famous pair recorded some of their finest work during their period with the Fonseca label.
The following album, On The Scene With Ricardo Ray, which had brilliant rendition of Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare", which changed during the song from cool Latin jazz piece to a driving mambo. Ray's versatility was further evident in his crossover-hit album in the Afrom-American community: Jango, released in 1966.
In 1966 Ray switched to Alegre Records and released nine albums on that label through 1970. He experimented with the R&B/Latin fusion style referred to as boogaloo, on his first album for Alegre: Se Soltó, but it was not a success. The more commercial follow-up, Jala Jala y Boogaloo, however, was well received perhaps because it included one of his greatest hits "Jala Jala", which Cruz co-wrote with him. Although still signed with Alegre, Ray recorded Viva Ricardo and El Diferente for UA Latino.
In 1968, Ray and Cruz released Los Durísimos, significant because it was the first album in which they shared equal billing, with Ray on the piano and Cruz at lead vocals.
In 1970, left New York and moved to Puerto Rico, for professional and personal reasons. It was difficult transition at first but the pair did see their fortunes improve and were able to open a nighclub in San Juan. However managing the club in addition to their commitments proved too much and they sold the club to devote themselves to performing. They signed
Ray and Cruz went on to sign with the new Vaya Records label, a subsidiary Fania Records. Unfortunately, the quality of their recordings (1970's and 1980's) was uneven. El Bestial Sonido de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz in 1970, was the first ever release on Vaya, and was one of their better albums on that label. It featured the Rubén Blades composition "Guaguanco Triste". In 1972 the duo released Ricardo Ray Presenta A La Vimarí, but it was a disappointing offering. However, Jammin' Live, released the next year, with Vimarí as co-lead singer, was a better effort.
In 1974, Ray suffered some emotional problems that led to alcohol and drug abuse but in August of that year, he surprised many when he announced that he had become a born-again evangelical Christian. The professed experience radically changed his career and relationship with Cruz. Music took a back seat and there was friction with Cruz. The relationship was saved when Cruz also converted to the same brand of evangelical Christianity. Together again, they abandoned the old secular salsa and began recording religious themes, using their music to proselytize.
In spite of these dramatic changes, the public continued their interest in and support of the duo. The 1975 release of Reconstrucción went "gold" (their ninth). The album included their smash hit single "Juan En La Ciudad", which they co-wrote. They followed with Viven! in 1977, which included the exciting "El Rey David", another joint composition. Likewise, De Nuevo 'Los Durísimos' Again (1980), and their final release on Vaya, Inconfundibles (1987), were quite successful.
The sincerity of Ray's Christian beliefs was not just conveyed in his music. Together, Ray and Cruz are pastors of more than 20 churches throught Puerto Rico and the United States, and Ray founded the Salvation Records label as an outlet for Christian music. He continued his music career although his long-time friend, Cruz, had retired.
In 1991, Ray and Cruz reunited for successful concert appearances in San Juan and again in New York. They reunited again in 1999 for the "Sonido Bestial" concert in San Juan, which was recorded and included the hit song Agúzate was selected as one of the best recordings of 1999 and helped bring the pair back into the limelight of the Puerto Rican music scene. ~ Music of Puerto Rico