Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Charlie Rosario: El Rumbero De La Carátula (The Rumbero of the Album Cover)

Charlie Rosario is a graphic designer, visual artist, drummer and poet of Puerto Rican parentage who was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950. In the late 1960s he began his career in Latin album cover art with a psychedelic painting for Tito Puente (The King Tito Puente / El Rey Tito Puente, Tico Records, 1969), for which he was paid 95.00 but never given credit. 

Rosario attended high school at the School of Art and Design from 1967 through 1969 where he concentrated in art. From 1970 to ’71 Rosario studied commercial art (illustration, graphic design, film, and photography) at The School of Visual Arts. In the early 1970s he worked for Izzy Sanabria, art director at Fania Records and editor of Latin New York magazine, where he also learned about album design. Striking out on his own as a freelancer, by the late 1970s he had designed album covers for various Latin music record labels including Alegre, Coco, Combo, Fania, Ghetto, Kubaney, Mericana, Salsa, Salsoul, Tico, TR, Vaya and others. 

Rosario’s graphic design work included layout, typography, photography and illustration, as well as something he called “sculpture graphics” which were unique three-dimensional art objects that were then photographed for cover designs. Occasionally he came up with a title for an album, which was often inspired by the artwork he provided for it. Many times he was given sole responsibility to invent a cover concept, so technically he was also art director on many of his jobs for record labels. In the Latin music industry Rosario was known as a designer and illustrator who thought “outside the box” and many label presidents and A&R staff turned to him when they wanted something distinctive or out of the ordinary. 

As an acquaintance or friend of many musicians, promoters, producers and bands, and as the son of Pablo Rosario, Sr., a singer and musician, and a sibling to Pablo Rosario, Jr., a noted percussionist with musicians from Larry Harlow to David Bowie, Charlie Rosario often had an inside connection to the albums he worked on through his personal links to the industry. Rosario also designed concert flyers and posters and did some set design for performances, including for The Tico-Alegre All Stars at Carnegie Hall in 1974 (with his cousin Yogi Rosario)and photography for Larry Harlow’s salsa opera Hommy when it was performed there the same year. 

In the 1980s, after moving to Puerto Rico, Rosario dedicated his artistic endeavors to fine art, producing a large body of colorful paintings and sculptures, many of which were inspired by his love of Mesoamerican, Pre-Colombian Indigenous cultures like those of the Aztec, Taíno, and Incan peoples. 

Rosario also worked with themes around African and Afro-Caribbean drumming as well as social issues affecting black and brown communities at home in Puerto Rico and in New York City. All of this was informed by Rosario’s many experiences growing up in New York with Latin music, having come from a musical family, as well as his many years as a rumbero callejero (street drummer) and spoken word poet. 

Rosario is probably best known for his two iconic album covers done for Eddie Palmieri: The Sun of Latin Music (Coco, 1974) and El Rumbero Del Piano (RMM 1998). 

His work has been featured in several museum and gallery exhibitions (¡Viva La Música!, Exit Art, NY, NY, 2006; American Sabor, Experience Music Project, Seattle, WA, 2007 / The Smithsonian Latino Center, Washington, DC, 2011;Rhythm & Power, The Museum Of The City of New York, NYC, NY, 2017; Visual Clave, various venues including The Jordan Schnitzer Museum Of Art, Eugene, OR, 2019; Drums & Dreams, Bronx Music Heritage Center, Bronx, NY, 2015) as well as in the book Cocinando: 50 Years of Latin Album Cover Art, Princeton Architectural Press, 2005) and as part of the visual presentations during the free Latin dance music concert series ¡Vaya! 63at The Lincoln Center Atrium, NYC, NY (2016 - 2020).

This is Charlie's discography on Discogs: