Puerto Rican salsa singer Tito Rojas, known as “El Gallo Salsero” and famous for his velvety tenor and hits like “Señora de madrugada” and “Por mujeres como tú,” died of a suspected heart attack Saturday (Dec. 26) in his hometown of Humacao, Puerto Rico. He was 65 years old.
“Our friend and colleague Tito Rojas has moved to ‘another neighborhood,’” salsa icon Ruben Blades wrote on Instagram. “Blessed with a dynamic personality and sense of humor, he obtained deserved popularity for his ability to connect with the salsa audience, displaying the sharpness, humor and capacity Puerto Ricans have to confront life and overcome hardships.”
According to reports on Puerto Rican daily Un Nuevo Día, Rojas, a gregarious and well-loved figure, had spent the evening with friends and, on the way home, began to feel ill and stopped at a cousin’s house to get help. He collapsed and medics were unable to revive him, according to Teddy Morales, the director of Humacao’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Rojas, whose real name was Julio César Rojas, was a fixture in the world of salsa who landed 49 tracks on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart from his beginnings in the mid-1990s to as recently as this year. His No. 1 hits include 1995’s “Esperándote” and 1999’s “Por mujeres como tú,” a song that also hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, and would later be reprised in regional Mexican format.
Rojas rose to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the commercial heyday of salsa, and was long signed to tropical indie MP, known for its hard-hitting, Puerto Rican salsa acts. During that time, Rojas garnered a Grammy nomination, in 2003, for Perseverancia, in the Best Salsa/Merengue album category. MP later merged with another tropical music powerhouse, JN Records
But Rojas never stopped recording or performing, even during lulls in salsa’s popularity. This year, he was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the best salsa album category for Un Gallo Para la Historia, and was also featured in his friend Gilberto Santa Rosa’s album, Colegas.
Rojas’s last performance was a Christmas special, “Canta Gallo, Canta en Navidad,” where he performed danceable hits with his full band and which streamed free to fans on YouTube. Watch below.
Reaction to Rojas’ death was swift on social media. “A man of the people, humble, charismatic and unparalleled energy, among the best singers,” Maelo Ruiz wrote. Elvis Crespo called him “a one of a kind artist in his class.” And Don Omar added, “No one is eternal in the world, even having a heart that so feels and sighs for life and love.”
In Rojas’ native Humacao, the mayor called for five days of mourning. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.