Héctor Lavoe (born Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez, September 30, 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico - d. June 29, 1993 in New York City) was a Puerto Rican salsa singer.
He has performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls featuring Salsa, as well as Jazz events like the Newport Jazz Festival. His recordings have also garnered him many awards and gold albums. His success is attributed to his musical expression of his unique jibaro salsa flavor and his love for Puerto Rico.
Héctor was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico to Pachita and Luis Perez, and raised in the Machuelito barrio of the city. He was inspired early in life by his musically talented family. His grandfather Don Juan Martínez was a singer of controversial songs, which often went from vocal conflict to physical confrontations. His uncle was a well known tres player in Ponce. His mother Pachita was well known among her family and townspeople for her beautiful singing voice. His father Luis supported his wife and eight children by singing and playing guitar with trios and big bands. Héctor would also be influenced by Puerto Rican singers such as Jesus Sanchez Erazo -also known as "Chuíto el de Bayamón"- one of the island's most successful folk singers, and Daniel Santos. Later in his life, would have the honor of recording songs with both artists.
Héctor attended the local Juan Morel Campos Public School of Music where the saxophone was the first instrument he learned to play. Among his classmates were Jose Febles and multi-instrumentalist Papo Lucca. Jose Febles wrote most of the horn charts for "Rican-Struction", considered by many to be the best album to ever come out of the New York Salsa scene. One of his teachers would strictly demand good diction, stage presence and manners from him (something that suited him well later on), claiming that as a bolero singer, Héctor would become a superstar. By the age of 14, however, Héctor dropped out of school and sang with a ten-piece band. moved permanently to New York on May 3, 1963. It would take many more years before Héctor was able to reconcile with his father.
Arrival in New York City
He met his sister Priscilla upon arrival to New York. The first thing he did in New York was visit El Barrio, New York's "Spanish Harlem." Héctor was disappointed in the condition of El Barrio which contrasted with his vision of "fancy Cadillacs, tall marble skyscrapers and tree-lined streets." Hector stayed at his sister's apartment in The Bronx instead.
The first week in New York, Héctor was invited by his friend Roberto García, a fellow musician and childhood friend, to a rehearsal of a newly formed sextet playing the romantic bolero Tus Ojos. The lead vocalist, who was singing off key, and as a gesture of goodwill, Lavoe showed the vocalist how it was supposed to sound. Impressed with his dynamic voice and stage personality, the group offered him the spot of lead vocalist, which he accepted.
Later in his career, he joined othermore well known groups in the genre, including Orquesta New York, Kako All-Stars, and Johnny Pacheco. In 1967, he met Salsa star Willie Colón.
Pacheco, co-owner of Fania Records and its recording musical director, arranged for Lavoe to record with Willie Colón on his first album El Malo. Willie never officially asked Lavoe to join his band, but after the recording, Willie said to him, "On Saturday we start at 10 p.m. at El Tropicoro Club."
The album's success significantlytransforms both Willie's and Héctor's lives. Héctor received instant recognition, steady work and enough money to provide him with a comfortable life style. According to Lavoe, it happened so fast he didn't know how to cope with the sudden success.
With newly found success, Héctor, like many successful artists of his time such as Judy Garland, La Lupe, and Billie Holliday, became severly addicted to narcotic and prescription drugs. His addiction resulted in him showing up late for gigs, and eventually did not even show up to some appointments at all. Although Willie fired him, he tried to help Lavoe seek assistance to try to quit his habit.
In 1973, Willie Colón departed the band. Lavoe was giving the option of keeping the band together by becoming leader of his own band, which he did. Lavoe formed his own band and traveled around the world with them as well as with the Fania All-Stars. During his travels, Héctor went to Honolulu, Hawaii and ran into a young man who went by the name of Shakti. Shatki eventually became his benefactor providing him with spiritual and metaphysical wellbeing. Lavoe later found out that he befriended a very powerful yogi in disguise who was trying to open Lavoe's spiritual vision. Héctor established himself as a successful singer within a relatively short time and was recognized as a legend in his own time. With a new found spirituality, Hector eventually reconciled with his father when he finally visited his father who received him with open arms.
Despite his success, Héctor's life was plagued by tragic events, emotional turmoil and pain.
Héctor died in poverty on June 29, 1993 in New York City. The cause of death was AIDS. He was first buried in a bruial plot in Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx (which ironically is the burial place of both La Lupe and Billie Holiday; until 2002 Lavoe's grave was within walking distance from La Lupe's), however in June 2002 the bodies of both Lavoe and his son (who died in 1992) were exhumed per his family's request. They were later reinterred in his native Ponce, along with his wife Nilda who passed away a few weeks prior to the burial.
Lavoe's spirit and legacy still lives on. He is one of the few Latin artists to have his life filmed into two biopics. Both films, which will be released in 2006 are produced by two of the most prominent celebrities in the musical genre. El Cantante will star salsa superstar Marc Anthony as Lavoe, and film icon (and also's Anthony's wife in real life), Jennifer Lopez as Hector's wife, Nilda (also known as "Puchi" by close friends).
Meanwhile, singer La India is producing her own biopic of Lavoe's wife with actor Raul Carbonell in the lead role. The Singer (which is a literal English translation of the first biopic) will be released in 2006 as well.
Besides these films, an off-Broadway production of his life title Quien Mato a Hector Lavoe? ("Who Killed Hector Lavoe?) was a huge success in the late 1990s. IT starred singer Domingo Quiñones in the lead role.
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