Jimmy Sabater, Sr. was born in New York City. He was a Latin musician and singer who was a three-time winner of the ACE Awards. Sabater sang with Joe Cuba and his Sextet in both Spanish and English, representing the most successful band singing Latin Music in English. The band was also one of the leaders of the Latin Boogaloo.
Sabater is the son of Nestor Sabater and Teresa Gonzalez of Ponce, Puerto Rico. He grew up in East Harlem, the Spanish Quarter of New York City known as “El Barrio”. Like most teenagers in the neighborhood, he played stickball, flew kites, and harmonized the tunes of the popular R&B groups and vocalists of the day such as Nat King Cole.
He was inspired by percussionists such as Willie Bobo, Uba Nieto, Papi Pagani, Monchito Muñoz, and Willie Rodriguez. With encouragement from many of these same drummers who were from “El Barrio”, Jimmy practiced playing the timbales, the standing drum kit made world-famous by the great “Rey del Timbal”, Maestro Tito Puente. It was during a 1951 stickball game between the Devils and the 112th Street Viceroys that Jimmy’s life would turn towards history. A young man named Gilberto Calderon of the Devils met Jimmy, and invited him to a party. The two became fast friends. They had a lot in common. Both wanted to be musicians after being influenced by the music of Machito, Marcelino Guerra, Noro Morales, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. 1954 saw the Joe Panama Sextet as one of Spanish Harlem’s most popular music groups. When Panama’s Conguero, or conga drummer, left the group, Jimmy recommended his friend Gilberto for the job. Soon after, bandleader Joe Panama fired his sidemen and replaced them with others. The now unemployed musicians which included vocalist Willie Torres and pianist Nick Jimenez formed a group which included bassist Roy Rosa, vibraphonist Tommy Berrios, timbalero Jimmy Sabater, and conguero Gilberto Calderon (who had been selected by the musicians to direct the band).