Ralph Mercado, a Brooklyn native whose promotional skills helped spread the popularity of salsa music worldwide, died Tuesday. He was 57.
Mercado died at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. His publicist, Blanca Lasalle, confirmed his death.
"Tropical music has lost one of the promoters that defended and represented our genre the most," said salsa star Victor Manuelle. "He was one of the key figures in bringing and maintaining salsa to the place it now occupies."
For more than 30 years, Mercado staged Latin music events in the New York area and managed some of the biggest stars of salsa. He also developed a record label, RMM Records, a publishing company, and a video and film production company, and operated restaurants and nightclubs in New York.
While still a teenager in Brooklyn, Mercado began organizing parties and dances as president of a neighborhood social club, according to a biography provided by his publicist. He moved to a room above a garage on Atlantic Avenue, calling it the "3 & 1 Club" and began booking local Latin bands.
He opened a management, booking and promotions company called Showstoppers, which promoted R&B acts, including James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and New York concerts that featured a fusion of salsa and Latin jazz.
"As a promoter of the genre ... he and others achieved a very beautiful marriage between jazz musicians and salsa musicians," said Cuban jazz star Paquito D'Rivera, who worked many times with Mercado.
In 1972, Mercado opened RMM Management, representing Latin jazz stars Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. He continued to promote Latin dances and concerts, including events featuring the Fania All-Stars, an ensemble of musicians and singers who recorded for Fania Records, the leading salsa record company of the time.
Mercado later started his own independent Latin music recording company, RMM Records. Leading artists who recorded for the label included Marc Anthony, La India, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
Mercado was honored with a lifetime achievement tribute by Billboard magazine in 1999.
He is survived by his wife Cynthia, five children, two brothers and a sister.