The world of cumbia lost one of its legends on Friday when news broke that saxophonist Fito Olivares had died at the age of 75 in Houston after a battle with cancer.
Born Rodolfo Olivares in Tamaulipas, Mexico, the young musician first began playing the saxophone professionally in his teens, a member of various groups before forming Fito Olivares y su Grupo La Pura Sabrosura in the 80s with his brothers and moving to Houston.
He wrote several memorable songs that became staples on dance floors at weddings, quinceañeras and other events including “Juana La Cubana,” “El Colesterol,” and “La Gallina.”
Singer and Tejano music archivist Veronique Medrano joined the Standard to talk more about the life and legacy of “El Rey de la Cumbia.” Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: For those who might not be familiar with him, could you tell us a bit more about who Fito Olivares was and why he was considered by so many to be a legend?
Veronique Medrano: Fito Olivares was a definite genre game-changer. His music, especially using saxophone and how he used that instrument to kind of influence the cumbia, really is what made him a household name. It was the just uniqueness of his music. You listen to cumbias prior to him, and yes, there was an influx of, you know, big band sound, but it was how he used those horns and by knowing that instrument that really changed the game for the music industry.