Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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(b Héctor Juan Pérez, 30 September 1946, Ponce, Puerto Rico; d 29 June 1993, NYC) A sonero (extemporizing salsa singer), composer, bandleader; nicknamed 'The Singer of Singers' and 'Improviser of Improvisers'; dubbed 'Lavoe' by a NYC dance promoter. He took up saxophone briefly and made his professional singing debut at 14, relocating to NYC age 17. He worked with a sextet, Orchestra New Yorker, Kako and Johnny Pacheco (for two weeks). Pacheco bought Lavoe in to provide lead vocals on Willie Colón's Fania debut LP El Malo ('The Bad Guy') '67 (also setting an image: see Colón's entry); the combination of Lavoe's fresh, young voice and Colón's radical approach, with spontaneity and exuberance ahead of precision, became a new ideal for young Latin musicians, a backlash against what was seen as routine virtuosity of older groups. They released twelve successful albums (including two compilations) '67-75. In '74 Lavoe took over the band and continued to perform old hits; Colón producing many of his albums including his first solo LP La Voz '75, the band expanded to include two trumpets and two trombones (Colón had used only the 'bones). His first solo hit was the surprising 'El Todopoderoso', strongly religious and Christian as opposed to the emphasis on Afro-Cuban religions in much of salsa. He sang with the Fania All Stars (of which he was a founder member) on Live At Yankee Stadium Vol. 1 '75, doing 'Mi Gente' ('My People'), a Pacheco composition from La Voz, which became an anthem of pride among Latin audiences (film footage from this concert was included in Fania's film Salsa and two-disc soundtrack album '76); another hit from La Voz was 'Rompe Saragüey', an old Cuban son which referred to the santería religion and featured a brilliant piano solo by Mark 'Markolino' Dimond. He also sang with Rubén Blades on Colón's The Good, The Bad, The Ugly '75; his De Ti Depende/It's Up To You '76 had pianist Joe 'Professor' Torres from the original Colón band replacing Dimond, including the hit 'Periodico de Ayer' ('Yesterday's Newspaper'), written by C. Curet Alonso and arranged by Colón.

Lavoe received Latin NY magazine awards for 'Best Male Vocalist' and 'Best Conjunto' (Group) '76; he had became the salsa singer, star of countless TV spots and Caribbean shows. He reflected Puerto Rican life in New York to become the poet of the barrio, an artist who followed no one but influenced everyone. Recurrent drug problems limited his output; he inexplicably cancelled gigs and dropped out of the scene '77, rumoured to have failed in the use of santería to combat his drug abuse; then Comedia late '78 was a mature and mellow record, yet with his voice even more cutting and effective, especially on Blades's biographical song 'El Cantante', about an unstable singer: arranged by Colón it became an emotive confessional in Lavoe's stage act and his biggest hit. Recordando A Felipe Pirela '79 (in homage to the eminent Venezuelan bolero singer Felipe Pirela, who d 5 July '72) was produced by Colón; Xmas LP Feliz Navidad '79 was directed by Pacheco, with Yomo Toro on cuatro and featuring veteran singer Daniel Santos. Further LPs included El Sabio '80 (produced by Colón), Que Sentimiento! '81 (by Lavoe) and Vigilante '83 with Colón. The underrated Revento '85, released when NYC salsa and his career were in decline, had the horns down to two trombones; standout tracks included Lavoe's 'La Fama' and a cover of Joe Jackson's 'Cancer' with Richie Ray guesting on piano. He appeared with Celia Cruz on Homenaje A Beny More Vol. III '85 in the series of Tito Puente LPs; he sang on more than a dozen Fania All Stars sets including the two-disc film soundtrack Our Latin Thing '72, Tribute To Tito Rodríguez '76, Habana Jam '79 ('Mi Gente' again), Commitment '80 ('Ublabadu'), Lo Que Pide La Gente '84 ('El Rey De La Punctualidad'), Viva La Charanga '86. He appeared in London in '75 with his band, with FAS '76, '84 with his own band again; members of Angel Canales's band gigged with him mid-'80s adding a harder, rawer edge to his repertoire. Strikes Back '87 was a reunion with Colón and a return to the two-'bone frontline.

His life went into deeper crisis '87 when his 16-year-old son tragically died, his home was destroyed by fire and he was diagnosed to be suffering from AIDS; a failed suicide attempt '88 left him critically ill, and he finally succumbed to a heart attack. Fania boss Jerry Masucci used Lavoe soundalike Van Lester to complete the vocal parts on unfinished tracks Héctor recorded with Colón '86, issued as The Master And The Protégé '93. In his obituary on Lavoe, Colón wrote sadly that he had been consistently betrayed by his shady drug-dealing 'friends', by the business world, by promoters and impersonators and by the Latino legal community, and finally, 'I too betrayed Héctor by not having the courage to face him in his condition.' In 2006 Marco and Jennifer Muniz, better known as Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, co-starred in El Cantante, a Lavoe biopic premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September.