Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Fernando Luis Marín Rosario, 6 May 1930, Coamo, Puerto Rico) Steadfast salsa bandleader, composer, producer; steady (no frills) timbalero (timbales player), also bongo; his band has been a training ground for various musicians and singers. He led his own band El Conjunto Coamex in his home town at age 16, moved to NYC still in his teens, worked with Noro Morales, Aldemaro Romero, Johnny Seguí, Herbie Mann. He formed his own four-trumpet and rhythm band '58, made respected El Bravo Soy Yo '63 on Alegre (reissued on Inca) produced by label-boss Al Santiago, with lead singer Frankie Figueroa; the band was regarded as one of the best on the scene. During the boogaloo era he made LPs Boogaloo And Guaguancó '68 on Atco and Two Too Much '68 produced by Santiago on Musicor (with Figueroa), the latter marking the debut of his trademark four trumpet/ baritone sax frontline. (He did not approve of boogaloo, calling it 'American music played with Latin percussion', according to John Storm Roberts.) He played percussion on some of legendary series of '60s descarga LPs by the Alegre All Stars (see under Al Santiago, Charlie Palmieri) and Cesta All Stars. He switched to the Inca label with El Bravo De Siempre c.'69, including his first big hit 'La Cuesta De La Fama', sung by Panamanian Meñique (Miguel Barcasnegras), followed by De Donde Nace El Ritmo '71 (reissued '95) and Mas Ritmo '72, both with lead singer Chamaco Rivera. He relocated back to Puerto Rico '72 (though he recorded in NYC until the mid-'70s). Junior Toledo (d '90) replaced Rivera on Infinito '73, with Figueroa in the chorus; Otra Vez '75 had Toledo (Louie Ramírez, music director/arranger); Gracias Mundo '77 had vocals by Bobby Concepción and Guillo Rivera (produced by former Rosario sideman Bobby Valentín); best-of Campanero Rumbero '78 was compiled by Santiago.
To Florida-based Top Hits (TH) for From The Depth Of My Brain '78 and El Rey del Ritmo! '79 (both with Toledo and Guillo; Guillo departed to make solo debut La Linea '81 on Performance, reissued '96). Willie celebrated his 20th anniversary with El de a 20 de Willie '80 (lead singers Tony Vega and Concepción). The Portrait Of A Salsa Man '81 had Vega and Concepción joined by Gilberto Santa Rosa on lead vocals; Atizame El Fogón '82 and The Salsa Machine '83 were the last on TH, latter the last with Concepción; two-CD set Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos '94 on Rodven was a worthwhile TH hits compilation. He joined Valentín's Puerto Rican Bronco label with hit Nuevos Horizontes '84; 25th anniversary was marked by Afincando/25 Aniversario; Grammy-nominated Nueva Cosecha '86 had lead singers Vega and Santa Rosa joined by Tony (Pupy Cantor) Torres from NYC-based Manny Oquendo and Libre (see Libre), including a remake of Willie's 'Dame Tu Amor Morenita' from El Bravo Soy Yo: this was Vega and Santa Rosa's last with Rosario, both going on to solo careers.

Rosario's A Man Of Music '87 featured Pupy Cantor with a new singer Josué Rosado; Cantor left, Willie bought in ex-Mario Ortiz member Primi Cruz (b '56, PR; with Orquesta Kaffé '73-5, Concepto Latino '75-83 before El Gran Combo leader Rafael Ithier recommended him to Ortiz, with whom he made four LPs '84-7) and Bernie Pérez (b Yabucoa, PR; formerly with Pedro Conga's Orquesta Internacional) to share vocals with Rosado on The Salsa Legend '88 and Unique/30th Anniversary '89, the latter being Rosado's last. Viva Rosario! '90 including the major salsa romántica hit 'Anuncio Clasificado/Damelo' (but Rosario also does not approve of salsa romántica, for which he coined the disparaging term salsa monga, meaning limp or flaccid salsa). His Bronco finale The Roaring Fifties '91, with Cruz and Pérez joined by Henry Santiago, paid homage in contemporary style to the mambo period; Lo Mejor De Willie Rosario '90 is a commendable Bronco best-of selection. He changed to Musical Productions (MP) and performed with the label's leading lights on MP All Stars '92 and celebrated his 35th anniversary with the misleadingly titled Tradición Clásica '93 (because it was dominated by the romántico sound) on NRT (a division of MP), with new vocalist Rico Walker joining Henry Santiago; Cruz and Pérez made their solo debuts with Primi Cruz '93 on NRT and Con Caché '95 on Copa respectively. He returned to his familiar solid sound on Sorpresas! '95 on Tiffany, adding Cheo Andújar as a third lead singer.

In addition to those named, numerous musicians and arrangers, many of whom were or went on to become prominent Latin names, have contributed to Rosario's progressive típico sound and precision-drilled organization over the years, including Ray Santos (contributed arrangements '79-84); Javier Fernández (pianist '78-83, contributed arrangements '80-83); trumpeter David 'Piro' Rodríguez (b c.'62, Puerto Rico; debuted on '80 LP, music director '82, consultant '83 before departing; later became a Tito Puente sideman); José Madera (b '51, NYC, USA; a regular arranger since '81); José Febles (regular arranger since '82); pianist/arranger Ricky Rodríguez (replaced Fernández '84-8; contributed arrangements until '91); trumpeter, arranger, composer Humberto Ramírez (b '63, PR; member of horn section '85-8, producer '86-8, contributed arrangements '85-9, again '95; went on to become Tony Vega's music director and lead his own Latin jazz group); trumpeter/arranger/composer Julio Alvarado (debuted in horn section '87, replaced Ramírez as producer on '89 LP, to which he also contributed arrangements and two songs; arranged one track on '95 album).