For today’s blog post, I would like to introduce a very special figure in salsa music. This man is a legend among salsa musicians, and is a major contributor to the salsa revolution that occurred in the late 1960s, which lead to the popularity of the genre world-wide. He often goes by “La Voz” (“The Voice”) and is revered as “El Cantante de los Cantantes”, or “The Singer of Singers”. That man, of course, is Héctor Lavoe.
One of salsa world’s greatest singers.
Héctor Lavoe is a Puerto Rican salsa singer well known for his articulation, improvisation, and most importantly, his sense of humor. He was responsible for many memorable salsa songs that defined the salsa clasica style – strong brass, consistent percussion, and one defining voice. He is, like Franz Liszt before him, and Kurt Cobain after him, a rock star of his time. Unfortunately, like most rock stars, Héctor‘s life was plagued by misfortune, loss and addiction, resulting in an early demise.
Héctor was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1946, to a musically talented family. He grew up studying in the local Juan Morel Campos Public School of Music where his talent flourished. At the age of 17, he moved permanently to New York, against his father’s wishes.
After 4 years in New York, Héctor met with another salsa musician and bandleader – Willie Colón (a salsa superstar in his own right), and together, they became an instant success with their first album, El Malo. Overwhelmed with fame, Héctor lived the life of a rock star – becoming addicted to heroin and famed as a womanizer. His addiction resulted in him showing up late for gigs, and eventually not showing up to some scheduled performances at all. Although Willie would eventually cut ties with Héctor, he tried to help Lavoe seek assistance to try to quit his drug habit.
In 1973, Willie Colón stopped touring to dedicate himself to record production and other business enterprises. At the same time, Héctor continued to tour, as well as produced numerous albums and record hits, either with his own orchestra, or in collaborations with many other Latin musicians (including the cast of Fania All-Stars).
This song, “El Periodico de Ayer”, was so popular, it became a number one hit in Mexican charts for four straight months. It was also a strong hit in several countries of the Caribbean and South America
Héctor went into a deep depression in 1979, and sought the advice of a high priest of Santeria. After cutting all communication with his family and friends for two months, he reemerged, free of his drug addiction. This short rehabilitation was short-lived following the deaths of his father, son and mother-in-law in quick succession, as well as a diagnosis of HIV, which eventually lead to AIDS.
On June 26, 1988, Héctor attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the ninth floor of a hotel in Puerto Rico. While he survived that attempt, he could not stop the advancement of AIDS due to his continuous use of intravenous drugs with shared needles.
Héctor Lavoe finally succumbed to AIDS complication on June 29th, 1993, and was buried in his native Ponce, along with his wife, Nilda, who died a few weeks beforehand.
Todo Tiene Su Final – “Everything has its end”, a popular song to play at the end of salsa socials.
While Héctor Lavoe led a tragic life, he has carved a lasting legacy with his music. His music is still well-known and celebrated by salsa musicians today, and many tribute pieces, as well as shows were played in his name.
Héctor’s life also served as inspiration to the film El Cantante, played by Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.