Buena Vista Social Club singer dies

Cuban singer Pio Leyva of the Buena Vista Social Club has died of a heart attack in Havana at the age of 88, said his daughter Rosalia.

Cuban singer Pio Leyva of the Buena Vista Social Club has died of a heart attack at the age of 88.

Leyva's daughter, Rosalia, confirmed the singer passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"Music was his life. He almost sang yesterday," she said.

Leyva shot to international fame late in life along with his Buena Vista bandmates after recording an album in 1996 with blues legend Ry Cooder in Cuba. The Grammy-winning 1997 Buena Vista Social Club CD introduced the world to traditional Cuban "son" music.

A 1999 documentary of the same name by Wim Wenders chronicling the lives, music and recording sessions of the group confirmed the aging musicians as international stars. The documentary was nominated for an Oscar.

Leyva – born in central Cuba in 1917 – displayed his musical talent early in life, winning a bongo contest at the age of six and debuting as a singer in 1932. During the 1950s, he worked with guitarist Compay Segundo; the two later reunited in the Buena Vista Social Club.

Leyva released some 25 albums after signing on to the RCA Victor label in 1950. During his musical heyday in Cuba, Leyva sang with the bands of Cuban greats Benny More and Bebo Valdez.

In 1991, at the age of 74, he went on a successful four-month tour of West Africa where he had a dedicated following.

Just a few years later, Cooder collected the group of aging singers and musicians for the Buena Vista Social Club album — named after a seniors-only club in a western Havana neighbourhood.

Leyva is the fourth member of the band to die in the past three years: Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez died in 2003 (ages 95 and 84) and singer Ibrahim Ferrer died in August 2005 at the age of 78.