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Willie Sotelo, pianist and director of El Gran Combo, dies at 61

Willie Sotelodirector and pianist of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, passed away this afternoon, the orchestra confirmed through a press release.

Sotelo was hospitalized for cancer, the newspaper Primera Hora learned.

“During today’s afternoon, maestro Willie Sotelo, musical director of El Gran Combo, died of health complications at the age of 61. His wife Jannette Navarro, his daughter Wilmalie Sotelo, other relatives of his, maestro Rafael Ithier and colleagues from the orchestra ask for space to cope with such a difficult process and appreciate all the signs of affection and prayers towards them. Information about the funeral rites will be provided soon”, read the expressions sent by the orchestra before the sudden news.

Sotelo, a native of Mayagüez, joined the orchestra in 2006, when director and founder Rafael Ithier decided it was time to reduce his workload.

Initially, he held the role of pianist for the group and eventually, Ithier gave him the role of musical director.

Since his arrival, Ithier saw him as the ideal candidate to take his place at the piano and to preserve the discipline and perseverance of the group.

“He is very responsible, disciplined and has fitted in perfectly with the group. He understands my line and the guys’ line, and he’s serious and I like that,” Ithier said at the time.

Among his functions, Sotelo coordinated the hiring, contracts and presentations of the orchestra.

Sotelo recognized the honor that Ithier’s appointment meant.

“It is a huge responsibility and a great honor to be in Don Rafa’s chair, in addition to playing his instrument, playing his music and trying to maintain the style and preserve the sound,” he said.

Graduated from the Interamerican University in San German, in Music Education with a concentration in Piano, he founded his first group at age 19, Willie Sotelo’s Music Center.

The Mayagüez musician and arranger played with orchestras such as La Soluciones, Ismael Miranda, Elías Lopez, Willie Rosario, Lalo Rodríguez and others. He was musical director of Frankie Ruiz, Luis Enrique, Amilcar Boscan, David Pabón and was musical director of Roberto Roena and his Apollo Sound.

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