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Google Searches and Bizarre Music Careers

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The paths of a former East European leader and a musician with roots in Puerto Rico crossed recently at the Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, home of syndicated columnist Crispin Sartwell. His 15-year-old son had a homework assignment for Spanish class to write a biography of Tito Puente. His son was amazed to discover during a Google search that not only was Tito Puente the king of mambo, he was also the former leader of Yugoslavia. Ah, the broad sweep of the Internet, where an imprecise search can merge, in an instant, Marshal Tito and Tito Puente. Well, that conflation set Crispin Sartwell to thinking.

Mr. CRISPIN SARTWELL (Syndicated Columnist): Marshal Tito Puente was that rare combination, political strongman and mambo percussionist. A newspaper review of the period referred to Tito's, quote, "ability to literally drive a crowd crazy with his spicy heat from south of the border," a skill that serves him well in international diplomacy as well as in his efforts to confine political opponents to psychiatric facilities.

Later, he was to train that seductive beat squarely on Richard Nixon and a series of other American presidents who invited him to perform at the White House even as they attacked his brand of Marxism. As Watergate broke over a shocked nation, Tito moonlighted as the eldest member of The Jackson 5. He was declared president for life in 1976, and in his career, recorded about 120 albums, more than almost any other dictator in history. He won five Yugoslav Grammys. His influence is still felt today among members of the current generation of Latin music stars such as Enrique Iglesias and Pervaiz Musharraf.

So when someone tries to tell me I can't, I tell them right back about Marshal Tito Puente. Anything you can dream of being--tap-dancing firefighter, incredibly stupid professor of physics, white NBA star or sweet and sour pork--you can be. Be it all. And like Tito, be so much more.

BLOCK: Well, Crispin Sartwell's column about this also got us thinking, what would Marshal Tito Puente sound like? Maybe something like this.

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

Mr. MARSHAL TITO: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: And imagine the possibilities of other Google crossbreeds of music stars and strongmen. You could blend the smooth stylings of a Hawaiian lounge singer with a certain Vietnamese revolutionary.

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

Mr. DON HO: (Singing) I'm in the mood...

Mr. HO CHI MINH: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. DON HO: (Singing) ...(unintelligible) endless summer.

Mr. HO CHI MINH: (Through Translator) The American imperialists have invaded the south with their troops and have tried to destroy the north with their aircraft.

Mr. DON HO: (Singing) I'll be lonely, oh, so lonely.

BLOCK: That, of course, is Don Ho Chi Minh.

Or how about a genius of gospel and soul tempering the exiled tyrant from Liberia?

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

Mr. CHARLES TAYLOR: We will continue to lead and not follow.

Unidentified Backup Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more.

Mr. TAYLOR: History will be kind to me.

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) What you say?

Mr. TAYLOR: I have fulfilled my duties. Now you have no excuses. You must now seize this opportunity to help Liberia.

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) I didn't understand it. You can't mean that.

BLOCK: Ray Charles Taylor.

The iron hand of a Spanish dictator softened by the soaring tenor of a late great Italian opera star. Make way for Francisco Franco Corelli.

The brutal excesses of a Haitian despot mingled with the mountain folk songs of North Carolina, it's Baby Doc Watson.

And our personal favorite, take a hard-core rapper from the streets of Brooklyn, tack on a North Korean strongman.

Mr. KIM JONG IL: (Foreign language spoken)

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

Unidentified Backup Vocalists: (Singing) Whoa! Whoa!

Mr. KIM: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Backup Vocalists: (Singing) Oh! Yeah!

Mr. KIM: (Foreign language spoken)

LIL' KIM: (Singing) What's the deal, man? It's a dump over here, man.

Mr. KIM: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Backup Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

Mr. KIM: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Backup Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Whoa!

BLOCK: Hello, Lil' Kim Jong Il.

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.