After more than sixty years bringing the national instrument of Puerto Rico into prominence around the world, the internationally renown guitarist often referred to as the King of the Cuatro, Yomo Toro passed away peacefully on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm after more than a month in a New York hospital due to kidney failure.
Surrounded in a spiritual embrace of love and music from his many family and friends who kept round the clock vigil over the fragile 78 year old musician, Yomo spent his final days in good cheer as if bidding farewell to the many family and friends who daily made music his medicine. Yomo Toro leaves behind his wife Minerva of 31 years of marriage, his first born daughter Denise Toro, sisters Lydia, Iris, Mirza, and Milagros Toro joined by five grand children: Miriam Olivera, Martin Olivera, Denise Pinedo, Tiffany Pinedo & Denise Patricia Velez and three great grandchildren: Shaun Donate, Cloe Rodriguez and Martin Olivera. His brothers Juan, Angel, and Arcangel Toro were also by his side.
>From the first twangs of his small ten stringed “cuatro” guitar hair raising moments ran through arms, backs and necks as the diminutive Yomo Toro vamped, arpegioed and soared through musical genres from his native Puerto Rican plenas, seis and bombas to salsa, jazz, and rock rounded by classical guitar and Flamenco music. The virtuoso interpreted eclectic styles through cherubic fingers that flew through frets before languishing on lengthy solos weaved on Spanish songs.
Born in Guánica, in the town of Ensenada, Puerto Rico he was surprised by his father Alberto, when the five year old used a box as a booster to get to the guitar hung on the wall. Instead of getting angry, his father asked the boy he nicknamed “Yermo” (pronounced yuer-mo) to get back on the box and keep playing. He did. When he looked up his father was weeping.
He moved audiences ever since. An ambassador of Puerto Rican culture Yomo Toro grew to have a six-decade career as one of the world’s most respected Latin music players.
A noted guitarist, Toro’s instrument of choice was the cuatro, a Puerto Rican 10-stringed instrument descended from the lute and later adapted double strings similar to the Spanish Valhala.
After first landing in New York in 1953 with his band, Los Cuatro Aces, Yomo embarked on a series of tours of the Caribbean while recording classic albums with cuatro masters Masso Rivera and Nieves Quintero aptly titled, “Los Tres Cuatros.”
Yomo’s dream of playing with the legendary Trio Los Panchos was realized here in the Big Apple in the early ’60s. He recorded four albums with Los Panchos, including one featuring Eydie Gormé.
The “Yomo Toro Variety Show” over New York’s Channel 41 had a decade long television run during the late ’60s into the ’70s that brought him to the attention of Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco co-owners of the legendary Fania label where he eventually joined their world-famous showcase band, the Fania All-Stars. Especially noteworthy was the year 1969 when Yomo recorded the critically acclaimed salsa album “Tribute to Arsenio” with the Larry Harlow Orchestra.
When guitarist Roberto Garcia wanted Yomo to sub for him on a Christmas album Pacheco was recording with a new group, he asked Yomo to bring the popular electric guitar of the times, but, as Yomo tells the story, when he heard “Christmas” he grabbed his cuatro instead. When Hector LaVoe saw the instrument he immediately thought of his mentor and Yomo’s friend the great folkloric singer Chuito de Bayamon before the pair compared popular songs of the season. Through Hector’s musical expertise and Yomo’s virtuosity the 1972 release of the classic Asalto Navideño with Willie Colon became a best-selling Fania classic.
In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s Toro’s career careened like a freight train. He appeared on over 150 albums, recording more than 20 solo albums for Fania, Island, Rounder and Green Linnet Records. He returned to television and film, playing in commercials for several major international companies, over television shows the likes of “Sesame Street” and “The Ghost of Father Fohner” while working on the soundtracks for several films, including “Crossover Dreams” with Ruben Blades and Woody Allen’s “Bananas.”
Called “the Jimmy Hendrix of the cuatro,” by the N.Y. Times, Yomo’s rapid-fire riffs spanned many musical miles recording with Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Rondstadt, Gloria Estefan and David Byrne. His image is captured in statutes erected in his honor in Japan and in his hometown of Guanica.
Through it all Yomo maintained a simple, almost Zen like existence living humbly among the people of the Bronx community he returned to after his globetrotting. Settling into the Tremont section of the Bronx in 1973 after a stint in Brooklyn Yomo performed at the White House with the same pride, vigor and enthusiasm he shared with his musical brothers during his yearly neighborhood get togethers at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center performing his last gig there in October of 2010. Among his peers Yomo was considered the humblest and happiest of artists personifying that exceptional “salt of the earth quality” a rarity in this urban society.
In 1994 Yomo began touring and recording with Larry Harlow’s Latin Legends. Two years later he released the well-received “Celebremos Navidad” over Aché Records before hitting the road again in 1998 this time as part of David Gonzalez’ off Broadway musical “Sofrito.” Yomo’s music is also heard over the hit children’s television show “Dora the Explorer.”
Jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd fell in love with Yomo’s sound recording “El Espiritu Jibaro” with the funky jibaro in 2007 while Yomo’s super sonic salsa and Boricua roots licks are heard over Aurora & Zon del Barrio’s “Cortijo’s Tribe” CD along with the single “Homenaje al Sonero Mayor” released in July of 2010 where Yomo soars on solos that let him stretch and expand his virtuosity on strings.
Funeral arrangements and viewing will be announced shortly. On behalf of the Toro family we wish to thank everyone for their well wishes and outpouring of love and emails and especially for their request for privacy during this time.