Musician Armando Bonilla Jr., co-creator of the Grammy-nominated group Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, died Nov. 16 in Seattle after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 56.Manhattan native was the son of bandleader and musican Roman Armando Bonilla, leader of the East Harlem Orchestra. Armando learned saxophone, flute and percussion from his father and studied music with Leonard Bernstein. He went on to attend the Air Force Academy, and afterhis Air Force commitmentgot an M.A. from Columbia U.
He did a brief stint at the Children’s Workshop’s “Sesame Street” before co-creating the group Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. He wrote and arranged the band’s 1975 hit single “Cherchez La Femme,” which snagged a Grammy nomination. Three years later, he went on to form Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band, which had a 1979 hit with “Deputy of Love.” Future Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola was the band’s manager.
Bonilla also worked as a studio musician in New York, playing sessions with James Brown, Ashford and Simpson, Patio La Belle, Harold “The Prince” Batey, Ray Barretto, Joe Cuba and many others. He sang on Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ 1980 album “Off the Coast of Me.”
Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Billie Burdette de Bonilla, a former NYC disk jockey; and two daughters.