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Zenteno, 76, prodigy in trumpet, band leader

By Robert Crowe

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

 Roberto Zenteno, a Mexican trumpet prodigy who went on to lead popular big bands in Houston for five decades, died Thursday. He was 76. Zenteno checked into a hospital Thursday after having chest pains. He collapsed and died there. Zenteno, who once toured with Perez Prado known as the King of Mambo in the ‘50s performed jazz, salsa, meringue, swing and other genres Thursday nights at downtown’s Sambuca Jazz Cafe with his Roberto Zenteno Band. "He’s a musical icon here in Houston,” said Javier Zenteno, one of Zenteno’s five children and drummer for the Roberto Zenteno Band. Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Roberto Zenteno grew up in a creative household. His parents, who were actors and dancers, traveled Mexico with a vaudeville act. Though one his arms had to be amputated after an accident when he was 5, Zenteno excelled in many activities, Javier Zenteno said. "He started playing baseball young,” he said. "He was a killer with one arm, but the doctor told him he had to quit. So he picked up trumpet, and the rest was history." By 13, Roberto Zenteno was performing with a popular Monterrey band that traveled throughout Mexico and the Southwest United States. He met his wife, Elsa, in the 1940s at a bullfight in Mexico. In the 1950s, he began playing at the Rice Hotel and private clubs in Houston until he and his wife decided to move here. "He was the first Latino trumpet player that white people actually used to go see," Javier Zenteno said. "He used to play exclusive clubs for lawyers, celebrities, judges and athletes." Javier Zenteno said people will remember his father for his talent, kindness and humor. "He always had great stories and jokes that were just original, things only he could come up with," he said. Thursday, the band planned to continue performing at Sambuca, Javier Zenteno said. "It’s what he would have wanted." Daughter Norma Zenteno told the audience she had to perform for her father. "I’m here to pay respect to my father," she said before strumming her guitar. She said her father performed the night his father died. “Daddy, I love you,” she said. “This is for my father.” Fans and friends of Zenteno and his family offered condolences to his children and band mates. “There will never be another one like him,” said Mark DiMatteo, a local gospel musician. Zenteno is survived by his wife, Elsa, daughter Norma; and four sons, Javier, Robert Jr., Ernesto and David.

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