Born/Nació: Ramón Santamaría Rodríguez; La Habana (Havana), Cuba
Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría Rodríguez (April 7, 1922 – February 1, 2003) was a rumba quinto master and an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist. He is most famous for being the composer of the jazz standard "Afro Blue", recorded by John Coltrane among others. In 1950 he moved to New York City where he played with Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Fania All Stars, etc. He was an integral figure in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, paving the way for the boogaloo era of the late 1960s. His 1963 hit rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Mongo Santamaría was one of a handful of Cuban congueros ("conga players") who came to the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Other notable congueros who came to the U.S. during that time include Armando Peraza, Chano Pozo, Francisco Aguabella, Julito Collazo, Carlos Vidal Bolado and Modesto Durán. Many consider Santamaría to have been the greatest conga drummer of the twentieth century.
Santamaría inspired the stage name of Japanese actor Yūsuke Santamaria. Additionally, his name is used as a pun in the film Blazing Saddles. When the character Mongo enters a scene, a Spanish-speaking peasant cries, "Mongo! Santa Maria!" before fleeing in terror.