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Lavoe was born and raised in the Machuelo Abajo sector of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Early in his life, he attended the Ponce Free School of Music, today the Instituto de Música Juan Morel Campos, and developed an interest inspired by Jesús Sánchez Erazo. He moved to New York City on 3 May 1963 at the age of sixteen. On his first week living in the city, he worked as the singer of a sextet formed by Roberto García. During this period, he performed with several other groups, including Orquesta New York, Kako All-Stars, and the Johnny Pacheco band.
In 1967, Lavoe joined Willie Colón's band and performed as the band vocalist. With the Willie Colón band, Lavoe recorded several hit songs, including "El Malo" and "Canto a Borinquen". Lavoe moved on to become a soloist and formed his own band, where he performed as lead vocals. As a soloist Lavoe recorded several hits including "El cantante", "Bandolera" and "Periódico de ayer" ("El Cantante" was composed by Rubén Blades, "Bandolera" by Colón and "Periódico" by Tite Curet Alonso.) During this period he was frequently featured as guest singer for the Fania All Stars, and recorded numerous tracks with the band.
In 1979, Lavoe underwent a deep depression and sought the help of a high priest of the Santería faith to attend to his drug addiction. After a short rehabilitation, he relapsed following the deaths of his father, son and mother in law. These events, along with being diagnosed with HIV, affected Lavoe to the point of attempting suicide by jumping off the balcony of a hotel room. Lavoe survived and recorded an album before his health began failing. Lavoe died on June 29, 1993, from a complication of AIDS.
Héctor was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Francisca (Pachita) Martínez and Luis Pérez, and raised in the Machueloo 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 Francisca (a.k.a. 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 Jesús Sánchez Erazo also known as "Chuíto el de Bayamón"- one of the island's most successful folk singers, and Daniel Santos. Later in his life, he 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 José Febles and multi-instrumentalist Papo Lucca. One of his teachers would strictly demand good diction, stage presence and manners from him claiming that as a bolero singer, Héctor would become a superstar. By the age of 17, Lavoe abandoned school and sang with a ten-piece band. He moved permanently to New York on May 3, 1963, against his father's wishes, as an older brother had moved to the city and later died of a drug overdose. It would take many more years before Héctor was able to reconcile with his father.
Arrival in New York City
He was met by his sister Priscilla upon arrival in 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."
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. When he arrived they were rehearsing the romantic bolero Tus Ojos. The lead vocalist was singing off key, and as a gesture of goodwill, Lavoe showed the vocalist how it was supposed to sound. Following this event, the group offered him the spot of lead vocalist, which he subsequently accepted.
Later in his career, he joined other groups in the genre, including Orquesta New York, Kako All-Stars, and Johnny Pacheco. To distinguish Héctor from other Latino singers, a former manager made him adopt Felipe Rodriguez's moniker "La Voz" ("The Voice") and turned it into a stage name, Lavoe.
In 1967, he met Salsa musician and bandleader Willie Colón. Johnny Pacheco, co-owner of Fania Records and its recording musical director, suggested that Colón record Lavoe on a track of Colón's first album El Malo. Given the good results, Colón had Lavoe record the rest of the album's vocal tracks. 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 significantly transformed both Colón's and Lavoe's lives. Colón's band featured a raw, aggressive all-trombone sound that was well received by salsa fans, and Lavoe complemented the style with his articulate voice, talent for improvisation, and sense of humor. Héctor received instant recognition, steady work, and enough money to provide him with a comfortable lifestyle. According to Lavoe, it happened so fast he did not know how to cope with the sudden success.
During that year Lavoe started a romantic relationship with Carmen Castro. Castro became pregnant but refused to marry him because she considered him a "womanizer." Lavoe's first son, José Alberto Pérez was born on October 30, 1968. On the night when José was baptized, Héctor received a call informing him that Nilda "Puchi" Román (with whom he also had a relationship during the same period he was with Castro) was pregnant. Héctor's second son, Héctor Jr. was born on September 25, 1969. Following this event, the couple married, and following a request by Román, Lavoe kept the amount of contact with Castro and José Alberto to a minimum during their marriage.
The Willie Colón years
In late 1970, Colón and Lavoe recorded the first of two "Asalto Navideño" albums, featuring Puerto Rican folk songs such as Ramito's jibaro song "Patria y Amor" (renamed "Canto a Borinquen") and original compositions.
Lavoe's lack of professionalism was often balanced by an affable onstage presence, very much resembling that of a stand-up comedian. Another famous incident has a middle-aged audience member at a dance request a Puerto Rican danza from Colón's band, to which Lavoe responded with an insult. The requester then gave Lavoe such a beating that he almost ended up in the hospital. The request was finally honored in a later Colón record, "El Juicio" (The Trial), when he added a danza section to the Rafael Muñoz song "Soñando despierto", which Lavoe introduces with a deadpanned: "¡Para tí, Motherflower!" (a euphemism for "This one's for you, motherfucker!")
The Colón band had other major hits, such as "Calle Luna, Calle Sol", and the santería influenced "Aguanilé"; a Pacheco song recorded in the studio by the band, "Mi Gente", was better known in a live version Lavoe later recorded with the Fania All Stars.
Lavoe goes solo
A 30 second sample of "El Cantante, Lavoe's signature song.
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In 1973, Willie Colón stopped touring to dedicate himself to record production and other business enterprises. Lavoe was given the opportunity of becoming bandleader to his own orchestra; he and his band traveled the world on their own, and he would also be a guest singer for the Fania All-Stars. As part of these invitations, Lavoe was present at several shows with the group. One of the group's notable presentations took place in the Kinshasa province of the Zaire (Peoples Republic of the Congo) where the group performed as part of the activities promoting The Rumble in the Jungle, a boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman for the heavyweight championships of the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association.
The Fania All Stars recorded several of their tracks in live concerts. Lavoe was part of the group when the All-Stars returned to Yankee Stadium in 1975, where the band recorded a two volume production entitled Live at Yankee Stadium. The event featured the top vocalists in Fania and Vaya records, Lavoe was included in the group along with Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Bobby Cruz, Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, Santos Colón, and Celia Cruz. Lavoe recorded songs in fifteen different productions with the band serving as vocalist in twenty-three songs. Besides recording songs with the band, Lavoe was also present in three movies filmed and produced by Fania Records; these were: Fania All Stars: Our Latin Thing, Fania All Stars: Salsa, and Celia Cruz with the Fania All Stars: Live in Africa. His Colón-produced albums would be best sellers; cuts from these albums were hits in Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America:
- Lavoe's recording of Tite Curet Alonso's "El Periódico de Ayer" was 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.
- As a producer, Willie Colón had Lavoe record what would become his signature song, the Ruben Blades-authored song "El Cantante" against Blades' protests (Blades wanted to record the song on his own.). Blades has repeatedly acknowledged since then that Lavoe raised his song to classic status and that Lavoe's performance was much better than what he would accomplish with it.
- The Lavoe song "Bandolera" was a strong seller in Puerto Rico, despite strong protests from Puerto Rican feminists about its lyrics and soneos (Lavoe twice offers the song's subject a beating).
- Lavoe's recording of the Nicolás Guillén poem "Sóngoro Cosongo", set to salsa music, was another major hit.
- The controversial jíbaro song, "Joven contra viejo", featured Lavoe and Daniel Santos settling their age-based differences on-stage not without a heavy dose of humor and (yet again) Yomo Toro's cuatro music as a backdrop. Another major Christmas hit on Billboard Greatest hits for tropical genre in 1979 includes a song from singer/composer Miguel Poventud "Una Pena En La Navidad" in the same album titled "Feliz Navidad".
- Lavoe's final hit, "El Rey de la Puntualidad" (The King of Punctuality), is a humorous takeoff on Lavoe's constant tardiness and occasional absenteeism from shows. Lavoe followed the Santeria priest's advice and cut all communication with his family and friends for a period of two months. Following this event Héctor, reappeared confident and apparently free of his drug addiction.
Last years and death
Following his rehabilitation, Lavoe's life was plagued by tragic events, emotional turmoil, and pain. Both his mother-in-law and father died, and his seventeen-year-old son Héctor, Jr. was accidentally shot by a friend. Also, Lavoe was diagnosed with HIV/ AIDS. These events would push him to the limit on the night of Saturday, June 25, 1988 when Héctor was scheduled to perform at the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Sales for the concert were low, and Ralph Mercado who was the promoter of the event decided to cancel the concert. Héctor, defiant to the end and knowing that it would be one of the last times he would perform in Puerto Rico, decided, against the promoter's wishes, to perform in front of the public who had paid to see the now canceled concert. The next day, on June 26, 1988, Héctor attempted suicide by jumping off the ninth floor of the Regency Hotel Condado in Puerto Rico. No reason for this was ever determined. He survived the attempt, but from that day forward, he would never completely recover as AIDS began to ravage his body due to the use of intravenous drugs and shared needles.
In 1990, Héctor gave his last large, public performance (with the Fania All Stars) in New Jersey. It was meant to be his comeback concert, but Héctor could not even sing a few notes of his famous song "Mi Gente". It is believed his final public performance was a brief appearance at the club S.O.B.'s in New York City, in April 1992.
Héctor died on June 29, 1993, at a hospital in New York City. The cause of death was diagnosed as “a complication caused by AIDS." He was initially buried in a plot in Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. In June 2002, the bodies of both Lavoe and his son (who died in 1987) were exhumed per his family's request. They were reburied in his native Ponce, along with his widow Nilda who died a few weeks beforehand. Lavoe's remains are at the Cementerio Civil de Ponce (Ponce Civil Cemetery), in that city's Barrio Segundo neighborhood.
Lavoe's life has served as inspiration for two biographical films. The first, El Cantante, was produced by salsa artist Marc Anthony, who starred as Lavoe, and Jennifer Lopez as Hector's wife, Nilda (known as "Puchi" by close friends). Salsa singer La India also began production of her own biopic of Lavoe's life entitled The Singer, with actor Raul Carbonell in the lead role. This movie's production was suspended in August 2008 after the director, Anthony Felton, reported that it was over the budget. Carbonell noted that he would reconsider his involvement if the production is resumed.
An Off-Broadway production based on Lavoe's life titled ¿Quién mató a Héctor Lavoe? (Who Killed Hector Lavoe?) was a success in the late 1990s. It starred singer Domingo Quiñones in the lead role. Carbonell's decision to distance himself from the film directed by Felton was directly influenced by his involvement in a tour of Quien Mato a Héctor Lavoe? in Puerto Rico, which was undergoing negotiations to be presented in Peru and Colombia. An urban tribute album was released in late 2007 and was performed by several reggaeton artists such as Don Omar while resampling Lavoe's voice.
La Guancha Recreational and Cultural Complex in Ponce, Puerto Rico, honored Hector with a statue. The $60,000 statue is 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) tall, weighs 1 ton and portrays Lavoe with a microphone in his right hand and a pair of maracas in his left.
As vocalist of the Willie Colón Orchestra
- El Malo (1967)
- The Hustler (1968)
- Guisando (1969)
- Cosa Nuestra (1970)
- La Gran Fuga (1971)
- Asalto Navideño (1971)
- El Juicio (1972)
- Asalto Navideño Vol. 2 (1973)
- Lo Mato (1973)
- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (1975)
As a Soloist
- La Voz (1975)
- De Ti Depende (1976)
- Comedia (1978)
- Feliz Navidad (1979) (with Daniel Santos & Yomo Toro)
- Recordando a Felipe Pirela (1979)
- El Sabio (1980)
- Que Sentimiento (1981)
- Vigilante (1983) (with Willie Colón)
- Revento (1985)
- Strikes Back (1987)
- The Master & The Protege with Van Lester (1993) (with Van Lester, posthumous album)
With Tito Puente
- Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. 2 (1979)
- song: "Donde Estabas Tú"
- Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. 3 (1985)
- song: "Tumba Tumbador"
With the Fania All Stars
- Live at the Red Garter Vol.2 (1967)
- Live At The Cheetah Vol. 1 (1972)
- Live At The Cheetah Vol. 2 (1972)
- song: "Que Barbaridad" with Ismael Miranda.
- Fania All Stars: Our Latin Thing-Soundtrack (1972)
- Fania All Stars Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 1 (1975)
- song: "Mi Gente" recorded live at the inauguration concert of Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan Puerto Rico 1974.
- Fania All Stars Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2 (1975)
- song: "Congo Bongo" with Cheo Feliciano. Recorded live at the inauguration concert of Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan Puerto Rico 1974.
- Salsa, Original Motion Picture Sound Track Recording (1976)
- song: "Mi Gente" recorded live at the inauguration concert of Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan Puerto Rico 1974.
- Tribute To Tito Rodríguez (1976)
- Fania All Stars Live (1978)
- Habana Jam (1979)
- Commitment (1980)
- song: "Ublabadu".
- Latin Connection (1981)
- song: "Semilla de Amor".
- Lo Que Pide La Gente (1984)
- Viva La Charanga (1986)
- Bamboleo (1988)
- song: "Siento".
Lavoe also sang chorus on three songs of Mon Rivera's album with Willie Colón, There Goes The Neighborhood (1974), and in the song "Las Cadenas de Chuíto" on Jesús Sanchez Erazo's album Música Jíbara para las Navidades (1978).
- Our Latin Thing (1972)
- Salsa (1976)
- Live In Africa (1986)
- Preparan festejo en honor a Héctor Lavoe. Reinaldo Millán & Omar Alfonso. La Perla de la Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. Year 32. Issue 1588. 7 May 2014. Page 6.
- "Artist Profile - Héctor Lavoe". Fania Records. Archived from the original on August 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-18.
- Eileen Torres. "The Triumph and Tragedy of Hector Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- Jennifer Lopez Re-unites with Marc Anthony at Kids' school. Enakeno Oju. Daily Times. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
- Juan Morel Campos Music Institute.
- The Triumph and Tragedy of Hector Lavoe from salsacentro.com
- "CMT: Héctor Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- "Solo Sabor Latin Entertainment: Héctor Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "Hector Lavoe: Cronología de un Bacán de Barrio". Retrieved 2007-06-17.
- "Héctor Lavoe: National Geographic Music". Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- "Héctor Lavoe - Salsa2u". Retrieved 2007-06-17.
- "Héctor Lavoe: His Life". Archived from the original on June 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- "TBXMIX: Héctor Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- "American Salsa: Héctor Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- "Willie Colón/Hector Lavoe - Asalto Navideño". , an ode to Panama's musical festivals that transposed a rather simple bass guitar line to trombone, producing a by-now classic salsa riff as a result.
- Muriel, Tommy. "Rivalidades en la música latina (o la tiradera en la salsa)". Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "Hector Lavoe >> El Rey de la puntualidad". J-Lyrics. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- Pepe Márquez. "Héctor Lavoe: El cantante de los cantantes". Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- Pareles, Jon (1992-04-26). "Review/Music; Mambo Becomes King On Mondays at S.O.B.'s". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-10.
- Aplauden y sonean en honor a Lavoe. Carmen Cila Rodríguez. La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 12 October 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "El Cantante". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- "The Singer". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- Manuel Ernesto Rivera (2008-08-07). "Muere película de Lavoe para Raúl Carbonell" (in Spanish). Primera Hora. Retrieved 2008-08-10. [dead link]
- "Regresa "¿Quién mató a Héctor Lavoe?"" (in Spanish). Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular. 2005-05-12. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- THEATER REVIEW; Out-of-It, Arrogant And a Salsa Legend from the New York Times July 27, 1999
- Amary Santiago Torres (2008-08-08). "Regresa al pueblo del salsero" (in Spanish). Primera Hora. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
- Music. Travel Ponce.com. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- Statue honoring late Puerto Rican salsa star unveiled. Fox News Latino. 2 June 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
- "Hector Lavoe - Discografia" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-06-23. [dead link]
- "Hector Lavoe - Discographia" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-06-23.
- "Internet Movie Database - Héctor Lavoe". Retrieved 2007-06-23.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Héctor Lavoe.|
- Hector Lavoe Official Site
- Hector Lavoe on the website of Fania Records
- Hector Lavoe at Find A Grave
- Hector Lavoe at the Internet Movie Database
- Lewis Beale: Puerto Rico’s Voice of Salsa, Lost but Found New York Times, August 13, 2006 (article on Lavoe's legacy and the biographical film "El Cantante")