Pictured: Jesse Bermudez's widow walks down the altar. Photo: Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News
Jesse Bermudez's life serves as a history lesson for Philadelphia's artistic youth. Photo: Carlos Nogueras/AL DÍA News

Al son del paraíso: Philadelphia musical icon Jesse Bermudez leaves an enduring legacy

Bermudez’s funeral was a celebration of his life and the heritage he left behind for generations after him.


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At the steps of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in North Philadelphia, families, friends and former pupils of Latino musical stalwart Jesse Bermudez gathered to say their final goodbyes during an open-casket ceremony, following his passing just a few weeks before on Sep. 13. 

The service was held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in a morning mass where those close to Bermudez offered remarks. 

“Dad was a compassionate community leader and advocate, who helped tear down barriers that negatively impacted Latin artists and musicians in the Philadelphia region,” said Sarah Bermudez, daughter of the late Salsa icon, in an emotional speech. 

Music and advocacy functioned hand-in-hand for Bermudez, and in 2006, he leveraged both his platform and position to establish Artístas y Músicos Latino Americanos (AMLA), a nonprofit organization that combats misrepresented notions of Latino culture while simultaneously promoting decent working conditions. 

Before it became a nonprofit, Bermudez assembled the movement in the 1980s alongside 125 other Latino musicians under the name Asociación de Músicos Latino Americanos to call for musicians’ labor rights at a stagnant moment in time in terms of wage relations and working conditions for U.S. musicians. 

AMLA soon became a haven for up-and-coming musicians in the Philadelphia region and the city’s artistic youth, serving as an example of pride and resilience. 

“Even though it was a community school, my job was to get the best teachers that I could. When you can nourish young people, that is about the highest thing that you can do,” Bermudez told AL DÍA News upon being bestowed the honor to represent Philadelphia’s “Siempre Salsa Philly Week” on a day coined “Jesse Bermudez Day.” 

Philadelphia’s musicians, young and old, remember this well. Since AMLA’s installment in the ’80s, a slate of musicians followed his path to become reputable artists in their own right. 

Among them was Pablo Batista, a famed international percussionist whose career spanned Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, and Salsa, to list a few. In his quest to tour the globe, Batista has served as a percussionist for some of the biggest names in the Latin music scene, a career whose success he attributes to Bermudez.  

“If it weren’t for Jesse, we would not have gotten fair wages. We would not have gotten acknowledged. We would not be here if it weren’t for Jesse,” Batista said as he recalled a lifetime of achievements that defined Bermudez’s legacy. 

“Philadelphia would not be the same without Jesse,” he continued. 


Pictured: Jesse Bermudez' casket enveloped in a U.S. flag.
Photo: Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

In addition to close family and friends, mass congregants included María Quiñones-Sánchez, a resigned City Councilwoman and current Mayoral candidate, and retired City Councilman Ángel Ortiz, a permanent statue of Philly’s Latino presence within the city’s legislative chambers. 

Bermudez’s passing holds equal weight as a musical icon, friend, and family man. He left those around him with a unique impression — namely, an unwavering character moved by integrity and a purpose. 

“Here was a common man who profoundly connected with and enriched his community,” said a third and final speaker. 

“He was a loyal and steadfast friend. He was no fool. He came from the streets. He took pride and his military service, even though he suffered terrible racism,” they added while explaining how his time in the military forged a sharp perception of his surroundings.

But as the community mourns, they rejoice. Bermudez’s passing brought together those whom he touched with his influence and inspired them to do the same. 

Prior to the funeral processions' final destination at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, a short pit stop was in order. In front of Kensington’s Centro Musical, lively music played by former colleagues and pupils of Bermudez dominated the air. 

A moment that felt like an apt parting gift for a man who gave his life through music. 

Descansa en paz, Jesse Bermudez. 


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