Ibrahim Ferrer, the humble, soft-spoken Cuban singer who achieved long-delayed international fame only after he was recruited for the Grammy-winning...

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Ibrahim Ferrer, the humble, soft-spoken Cuban singer who achieved long-delayed international fame only after he was recruited for the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club, has died. He was 78.

Mr. Ferrer died Saturday in Havana, the Montuno production company announced. No cause of death was given, but he had suffered from emphysema.

Caridad Diaz, Mr. Ferrer’s wife of 33 years, told Agence France Presse that Mr. Ferrer, who just completed a monthlong tour of Europe, had checked into the hospital for treatment of gastroenteritis.

Disappointed at singing in obscurity all his life, Mr. Ferrer originally declined to join the group that earned a Grammy for its 1997 self-named “Buena Vista Social Club” album. But the organizers, U.S. guitarist and producer Ry Cooder and Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, were persuasive.

“He was sitting in the lounge of the recording studio in Havana and had the kind of look of a southern blues player,” Cooder said yesterday. “We put up a mic — he hadn’t been singing and was making a living shining shoes and selling lottery tickets. Out comes this purity, a vocal sound of another world. … “

Cooder and De Marcos soon had Mr. Ferrer singing most of the songs in the 1997 Afro-Cuban All Stars’ debut album, “A Todo Cuba le Gusta.” The Grammy-winning recording quickly followed, selling 6 million copies with the modest Mr. Ferrer on its cover.

“We caught him walking down the street toward the studio … all dressed up, and that picture became the cover of the album,” Cooder said yesterday. “He was uncontaminated by any self-seeking or intention to make a career. He just wanted to sing for the purity of the experience.”

In 1999, German filmmaker Wim Wenders featured Mr. Ferrer and his colleagues in the highly popular Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club,” chronicling the history of Cuban music from the 1940s to the present. The film was liberally sprinkled with images of Mr. Ferrer, and the soundtrack showcased his plaintive, expressive falsetto voice.

At 73, Mr. Ferrer earned the best new artist award at the first Latin Grammys.