Héctor Lavoe: El Cantante de los Cantantes
April 16, 2008
Florida International University
Héctor Lavoe revolutionized the Latin salsa boom of the 1970s. He was a man born to sing and his passion for music led him on a remarkable journey of attaining endless dreams. Born Héctor Juan Perez Martinez on September 30, 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he lived a life full of achievements, setbacks, and tragedy that made a way for his life long addiction with cocaine, marijuana, and heroine. His drive to succeed in the music industry started in his early childhood years and was triggered by his idolization of famous Latin singers of the 30s and 40s like Daniel Santos, Jesús Sánchez Erazo, and the Puerto Rican sensation Ismael Rivera who he drew on for inspiration in his own work. Héctor, however, was unique to the Latin community because he had a certain charisma about him that drew on large crowds of followers and his apt way of creating new music with style made him “El Cantante de los Cantantes”; translated, the Singer of the Singers (Perez, 1999). Lavoe was born to Luis and Pachita Pérez in a very little town; he was only one of eight children of the couple. He was born to a family with a history of musical talent like his grandfather, Don Juan Martinez, who was known for his vocals that stirred as much conflict as passion. Pachita was also know for beautiful singing, his uncle was well known for playing an instrument in Ponce, and his father supported their household by playing music with local bands. Lavoe began attending music school as a child in Ponce in the public school called Juan Morel Campos, where he first learned to play the saxophone. However, when he was seventeen he dropped out of school against his parent’s wishes so he could follow a singing career in New York City. His father was specifically against Lavoe moving to New York because in earlier years they had lost their eldest son to a drug overdose in the city of New York (Torres, 2005). When he moved to the United States he lived with his sister, Priscilla, in the Bronx and within the first week of living there he found a job as a singer for a group led by Roberto Garcia. During that time he was also taken under the care of a noted talent manager who helped him change his name. As written in a biography, “A local promoter took Héctor Perez under his wing. He wanted Héctor to become a star. Héctor admired Felipe Rodriguez a famous singer of romantic ballads. Rodriguez was nicknamed La Voz (the voice). In that vein, the promoter christened Héctor with the stage name Lavoe, a derivative of La Voz.” (Torres, 2005)
He went on to play with other bands like the Orquesta of New York or even the infamous Johnny Pacheco band. He would go on to get his big break in 1967 at the age of twenty-one when he united with Willie Colon’s crew as a vocalist. Colon and Lavoe started a movement in the Latin music world unlike anything seen before. The two were “show stoppers” and together they wrote some of the greatest Latin hits of all time. Their union spanned a memorable fourteen albums, most of which have become some of the most legendary songs ever written. During the first year of Colon and Lavoe’s union they recorded a mega hit album called El Malo (Perez, 1999). The album would forever change the two song artist’s lives shooting them into super stardom and making them heartthrobs of the Latin music community. With the success of the album Lavoe was immediately established in New York City and set up with a very comfortable lifestyle making it easy for him to lead a much fulfilled romantic life. He was well known for being a “ladies man” and in the year of his first album’s success he managed to get his girlfriend, Carmen Castro, pregnant. He also had a baby with Nilda “Puchi” Roman, another woman with whom he had sexual relations with. Carmen’s baby boy was born on October 30, 1968 as Jose...
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