15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Cuban Musicians Of All Time

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Cuba is well known for its stunning beaches, a hearty supply of rum and cigars, colorfully painted buildings, and plenty of old cars to admire. However, did you know that Cuba also has an incredible history of famous musicians? 

Cuban music does not disappoint, from the sounds of salsa, rumba, jazz, and reggae to the more modern rhythm of Timba rocking the dance floors.

To celebrate all things Havana, in this post we’re going to take a look 15 of the greatest and most famous Cuban musicians of all time. Let’s gets started.

1. Gloria Estefan

Up first in our list of Cuban musicians we have, Gloria Estefan who was born in Havana.

She played in the band Miami Sound Machine. Her songs “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” were popular hits in the 80s and 90s, topping the music charts. 

Estefan’s family fled Cuba when she was a child and moved to Miami. She played for a local band called the “Miami Latin Boys” in high school. Here, she met Emilio Estefan, who she later married.

One of the most successful performers of Latin music, she has sold over 100 million records. Her album “Cuts Both Ways” was a bestseller followed by many years of success, earning her seven Grammy awards.

Related: Check out our list of famous Cuban singers here.

2. Desi Arnaz

Next is famous conga drum player and guitarist Desi Arnaz who was born in Santiago, Cuba. His father, Albert Arnaz, was the youngest mayor of Santiago and served on the Cuban House of Commons. 

In 1934, the family fled to Miami, where Desi formed a musical band called the “Siboney Septet.” After becoming the star attraction, he started up the band the “Desi Arnaz Orchestra.”

Arnaz also landed a leading role in the television series “I Love Lucy.” He earned two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to Hollywood films.

Arnez was a heavy smoker and died of lung cancer at 69.

3. Beny More

Considered one of the greatest artists in Cuban history, Beny More was born over 100 years ago in the Cuban town of Santa Isabel de Las Lajas.

Born to a large family of 18, he grew up playing rumba and conga music on his handmade guitar. At the age of six, he made his first guitar out of a sardine can and an old stick.

Although he couldn’t read or write, Beny had the gift of entertaining audiences in many Cuban styles, which led to a successful music career.

Unfortunately, his career ended early, when he died unexpectedly at 43. But, his legend lives on in his hit songs such as “Maracaibo Oriental,” “Rumberos de Ayer,” “Verguente,” and many others that are still played today.

4. Juan Formell

https://youtu.be/yIKSU-acHu4

Born in Havana, Juan Formell was a talented Cuban bassist and composer who formed the band “Los Van Van” in 1969.

He had a strong influence on Cuban music during the 1970s and 80s recording many successful albums and toured all over America, the Soviet Union, and Asia.

When Formell passed away in 2014, his son Samuel Formell took his place as the director of Los Van Van.

“La Fantasia,” a hit record, was released a year after his death. Formell had written five songs from the album that was nominated for a Grammy award. 

5. David Calzado

Born in 1957, in Cuba, David Calzado studied classical violin when he was 11 years old. He went on to become a member of the sixteen-piece musical band called Charanga Habanera.

He helped shape the evolution of Cuban music and is a famous music icon among many households who enjoy the sounds of Timba and Cuban Charanga music. 

In 2005, Charanga Habanera was nominated for an award in three categories, including best video, album, and group. The band has also won numerous awards from Lucas and Cuba discos.

6. Adalberto Alvarez

Born in Camaguey, Cuba, in 1948, Adalberto Alvarez was a famous Cuban pianist, musical director, and composer.

He attended the National School of Arts in Havana and later went on to become a music professor in the 70s.

In 1984, Altarz created a band called “Adalberto Alvarez y su Son.” It had many successful years and earned a national music award in 2008. The band also won many other awards, including the Cubadisco Award.

Alvarez died of Covid-19 in 2021 at the age of 74, although his legend as a famous Cuban musician lives one.

7. Silvio Rodriguez

Silvio Rodriguez is a Cuban musician who took piano lessons at the age of 16. When he was in the army, he learned how to play the guitar. This was just the beginning of his music career.

He has often been called “Cuba’s John Lennon” by many fans and critics worldwide who enjoy listening to his soft combination of romantic, idealistic, and revolutionary songs.

Rodriguez has recorded over 20 successful albums, including well-known Cuban classics such as “Cancion del Elegido” and ‘Fusil Contra Fusil.” Several of his songs are now considered classics, such as “Unicornio” and “La Maza.” 

8. Alexander Abreu

Alexander Abreu is a trumpet player, singer, and songwriter who was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

He founded the Cuban band called “Havana D’Primera” which consists of 16 members who have achieved international fame for their music. They have recorded six albums.

Abreu has also won many awards over the years, including the best Timba Trumpeter and best Folk album.

In 2012, he played a role in the movie “7 Days In Havana.” Abreu continues to be a valuable Cuban musician whose talents are enjoyed by many fans worldwide.

9. Candido Fabre

Born in Santiago, Cuba is Candido Fabre who learned to play the guiro, a traditional Cuban instrument, at the age of 7 years old.

He has also written over 1000 songs with his work having been performed by international performers such as Cilia Cruz and El Canario.

In 1992, Fabre formed a band called “Candido Fabre y Su Banda” which included 14 members. Together, they have toured worldwide and shared the stage with many other successful artists, including Cuco Valoy and Oscar D’Leon.

Fabre is ranked as one of the most successful musicians of Cuba and continues to tour around the world.

10. Compay Segundo

Compay Segundo was a Cuban musician who was born in Siboney, Cuba. A Cuban legend since the 30s, he was a talented guitarist who achieved international success in his 90s. 

He recorded the song “Vista Social Club” and starred in a hit movie with the same title.

Despite his age, he was an accomplished musician who got his good genes from his grandmother who lived to be 115 years old!

Segundo predicted that he would also live to be 115. However, he died of kidney failure at 95 years old.

11. Jesus Ramos

Born in Pinar del Rio, Cuban Jesus Ramos began his musical career playing the trombone in local Cuban bands. 

In 1979, he moved to Havana, where he played in “LasD’Aida.” He has also recorded songs with famous groups such as Beuna Vista Social Club, the Afro Cuban All-Stars, and many others.

In 2006, Ramos recorded his own World Circuit solo album. He continues to be a successful Cuban musician.

12. Orestes Lopez

Another talented multi-instrumental, musician and composer Orestes Lopez was born in Havana, Cuba.

He began studying various instruments at a young age, including the flute, piano, violin, cello, and guitar.

His musical achievements included playing the bass, piano, and cello for the Arcanoy sus Maravillas for over 20 years.

In 1938, Arcano composed the song entitled “Mambo,” which paved the way to a popular dance craze around the world.

Other songs that he either wrote or contributed to with his musical instruments include “El Moro Electrico,” “Camina Juan Pescao,” and many other successful accomplishments during his musical career.

13. Barbarito Torres

Barbarito Torres was a famous Cuban musician who was born in Matanzas, Cuba. He was well known for his flute playing, a traditional Cuban instrument. 

Famous for his musical contributions to the “Beulah Vista Social Club” and the “Afro-Cuban All-Stars,” he remains a favorite among many.

He is currently one of the last remaining original members of “Buena Vista Social Club.” He has also recorded many solo albums during his career as a Cuban musician. 

14. Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval was born in Artemisa, Cuba. He is a talented Cuban-American classical trumpeter and jazz player. Obtaining his American citizenship in 1998, he now lives in Florida.

Voted as Cuba’s best instrumentalist, Sandoval was invited to play in the United Nations Orchestra in 1989.

He has won several Grammy and Emmy awards for his musical talents over the years. In 1995, Sandoval performed at the White House.

Related: The greatest trumpet players of all time.

15. Mongo Santamaria

Well-known Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist and a rumba master, Mongo Santamaria was born in Havana, Cuba. His talents also included playing the bongos and being a famous congas drummer.

Popular in the 60s for his musical contributions to the boogaloo and pachanga made him well-loved by many.

Inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, Santamaria’s accomplishments in the music industry in Cuba paved the way to his success as a famous musician.

Many fans around the world will remember him for his many musical contributions.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Musicians From Cuba

Cuba has many extraordinary musicians who have proven over the years that they have so much more to offer us than simply breathtaking views and waves in the ocean. 

Sounds of Cuban culture echo from the voices of these talented artists of all time who bring us a variety of music that is sure to have your toes tapping to the beat. 

Who are your best-loved Cuban musicians of all time?

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.