As the coronavirus continues to spread and take lives, losses to the music community have increased as well. John Prine, the legendary folk singer-songwriter passed away on April 7 from complications of coronavirus at 73, while Hal Wilner, the music supervisor and producer known for his work with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull, also passed away on April 7 at age 64. Fifty-two-year-old Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne died on April 1 after contracting coronavirus, and Ellis Marsalis Jr., the iconic jazz pianist (and father famous sons Branford and Wynton) passed away on April 1, after contracting COVID-19 at 85.

Here, L.A. Weekly’s culture editor pays tribute to another departed music figure based in Los Angeles. Though his work in music was more behind the scenes, it was just as impactful.

It takes a very passionate person to do well in music publicity and Orlando Puerta more than did well — he excelled. We met when he worked PR at Warner Brothers music, championing strong female performers such as Cher and Madonna and helping both garner new fan bases as EDM-era dance divas. No one in L.A. had the kind of drive or zest for party and club music (and the revelry they inspire) that he did. Puerta — who was a cancer survivor and hence immuno-compromised — reportedly died on Saturday morning at 3:40 a.m. after a short but severe battle with an upper respiratory infection. He was 55. Though COVID-19 has not been determined yet, he had the symptoms and a test he took before he was hospitalized is forthcoming according to a statement from the record label and marketing company he founded, Citrusonic.
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(via Orlando Puerta’s Facebook)

Though I met Puerta while he was working for a record company, it was in the clubs where we became friends. Seeing him out and about, on a crowded dance floor or at various live music shows, was always such a pleasure. The club community in Los Angeles is very much like a family, and Orlando was omnipresent back in the late ’90s and throughout the 2000s. Hearing the news, I recalled the time he gave me a hot tip about Cher making an appearance at a West Hollywood hotspot. He helped squeeze me up by the stage, facilitating this footage. It was a night I’ll never forget.

“Orlando was the backbone of L.A. nightlife,” says Jason Lavitt, promoter and DJ at Club Tigerheat at Avalon and countless more legendary L.A. nightspots. “When we first launched club Tigerheat in 2001 Orlando pulled out all the stops for our opening night. Like most clubs at the time, Tigerheat was reaching the LGBT 18-25 crowd and Madonna was re-releasing her first three CD’s with remastered sound for the 2000s. We organized a look alike contest, a lip sync and a non-stop Madonna mega mix for the diehard fans. Being backed by Orlando put the odds for your party to be a huge success. The hardest part about this loss is what a sweet guy he was. He was just at Tigerheat almost 20 years after our opening night promoting his new artist. He had a smile that would light up a room, he was a fun guy that will truly be missed.”

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(via Orlando Puerta’s Facebook)

Puerta was Warner’s dance & lifestyle guy for years and when he left to start his own company, everyone knew it would be a success. He was always on the forefront of DJ and dance culture and his work with producers and re-mixers made club music better and more exciting, melding mainstream and underground sounds, and elevating both in the process. Working with singers and DJs and often, actors and pop culture figures who sought to be singers and deejays — Paris Hilton, Erika Jane, Taryn Manning and Laverne Cox, plus queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race — alongside the  aforementioned music legends, Puerta’s Citrusonic championed an inclusive yet eclectic mix of performers, elevating both LGTBQ and people of color communities and performers, and offering credibility to stars from other entertainment worlds who wanted in. According to the statement released on Monday, the company will continue what Puerta established with his tireless love and spirit.

“I met Orlando in the early ’90s when he was throwing his club Citrusonic [which turned into his label]. We became fast friends. He was such an integral part of the underground,” shares Bryan Rabin, party planner and promoter of Club Giorgio’s at the Standard. “Orlando was so generous to me and the whole community as well as the most supportive, unlike many people in clubland. What an amazing laugh he had! He also always called with the most juicy gossip that was 100% true! He gave me an opportunity to pitch for my first event job, the worldwide launch of Madonna’s “Music” record, which I got. I owe my event career to him. We saw each other every night for almost 15 years and then we both had companies so we both stopped going out and it was hard to stay connected. However, we always found the time to check in. Recently we had reconnected and were talking about working on some projects. Orlando was such a survivor in all aspects of his life. He battled cancer and had beat it. I hope you’re at peace. Fly with the angels honey!”

Sadly, the L.A. nightlife community has suffered some big losses the past few years, and it’s a bittersweet fact that my most recent memories of speaking with Puerta were about similarly pivotal Angelenos right after we lost them, such as Alexis Arquette, Sean DeLear, Matt Dyke and Nacho Nava. I’d like to think that all of these amazing, game-changing figures are dancing together in heaven right now.

Family has set up a GoFundMe to help one of Puerta’s favorite charities Wild Is Life. Donate here.

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