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Lavoe was born and raised in the Machuelo Abajo barrio of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Early in his life, he attended the Ponce Free School of Music known today as the Instituto de Música Juan Morel Campos, and, inspired by Jesús Sánchez Erazo, developed an interest in music. He moved to New York City on 3 May 1963, at the age of sixteen. Shortly after his arrival, he worked as the singer in 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 as its vocalist, recording several hit songs, including "El Malo" and "Canto a Borinquen". Lavoe moved on to become a soloist and formed his own band performing as lead vocalist. As a soloist, Lavoe recorded several hits including: "El cantante" composed by Rubén Blades, "Bandolera" composed by Colón, and "Periódico de ayer" composed by Tite Curet Alonso. During this period he was frequently featured as a guest singer with the Fania All Stars recording numerous tracks with the band.
In 1979, Lavoe became deeply depressed and sought the help of a high priest of the Santería faith to treat 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, drove Lavoe to attempt suicide by jumping off a hotel room balcony. He survived the attempt 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 Machuelo Abajo 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 led to physical confrontations. His uncle was well known in Ponce as a tres player. His mother Francisca, also known as Pachita, was well known by 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. He was in high demand as a guitarist for the Fiestas de Cruz celebrations and other popular religious ceremonies, and he wanted his son to receive formal musical training as a trombonist; Héctor dreamt of being a singer. Héctor was 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 record songs with both artists.
Héctor attended the local Juan Morel Campos Public School of Music where the first instrument he learned to play was the saxophone. His classmates included José Febles and multi-instrumentalist Papo Lucca. One of his teachers was very strict and demanded that he practice good diction and manners, and have a strong stage presence. He felt Héctor would become a superstar as a bolero singer. From the start Héctor was a star with exceptional charisma, talent, and charm. One of a kind, his unique voice, refined and with impeccable diction, demanded attention. Well on his way to becoming a popular-music vocalist, he began frequenting clubs such as Segovia, where he sang accompanied by his childhood friends, Roberto García and José Febles. At age 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 there and later died of a drug overdose. It would take many years before Héctor was able to reconcile with his father.
Arrival in New York City
Upon arriving in New York he was met by his sister Priscilla. The first thing he did was visit El Barrio, New York's "Spanish Harlem." Héctor was disappointed by the condition of El Barrio which he had envisioned would have "fancy Cadillacs, tall marble skyscrapers and tree-lined streets." Hector tried to earn a living as a painter, messenger, porter and concierge.
One day he reconnected with his friend Roberto García. They began to frequent Latin music and dance clubs in the Bronx, Spanish Harlem, and Lower Manhattan. In 1965, Héctor met Russell Cohen, who fronted the New Yorkers the band Héctor would first record with - the album Está de bala. 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 goodwill gesture, Lavoe demonstrated how it was supposed to sound. As a result of this selfless act, the group offered him the job of lead vocalist, which he subsequently accepted.
Later in his career he joined other salsa groups 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 on Colón's first album El Malo. Given the good results, Colón had Lavoe recorded the rest of the album's vocal tracks. Willie never officially asked Lavoe to join his band, but after the recording, 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. The album was a massive multimillion-dollar success in France, Panama, Colombia and other countries. 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 his sudden success. With the sudden fame came love and lust and experimentation with marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.
During that year, Lavoe started a romantic relationship with Carmen Castro. She 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 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 the birth the couple married, and at Román's request, Lavoe had only minimum contact with Castro and José Alberto 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. One famous incident involved a middle-aged audience member at a dance who requested a Puerto Rican danza from Colón's band; 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 on 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 for a live version Lavoe recorded later 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 to become the bandleader of his own orchestra. He and his band traveled the world on their own, and he would also be a guest singer with the Fania All-Stars for several shows. One of the group's notable performances 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 during 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 of 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 with the band in fifteen different productions, serving as vocalist on 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 on Mexican charts for four straight months. It was also a strong hit in several Caribbean countries and South America.
- As a producer, Willie Colón had Lavoe recorded 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 vigorous 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" from 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 recording 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. Lavoe was also diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. These events would pull him to the limit. Héctor was scheduled to perform at the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, Puerto Rico on the night of Saturday June 25, 1988. Sales for the concert were poor, and promotor Ralph Mercado 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 for the public who had paid to see the concert. The next day, June 26, 1988, Héctor attempted suicide by jumping off the ninth floor of the Regency Hotel Condado in Puerto Rico. No reason for this suicide attempt was ever provided. He survived the attempt, but from that day forward, would never completely recover as AIDS, the result of intravenous drug use and shared needles, began to ravage his body.
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 St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan, in New York City. The cause of death was diagnosed as cardiac arrest “a complication caused by AIDS, and wreckless behavior was also a contributing factor of death". He was 46. He was initially buried in a plot in Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. In June 2002, the remains of Lavoe and his son, who died in 1987, were exhumed at his family's request and reburied in his native Ponce, along with his widow Nilda who had died a few weeks before. His remains are at the Cementerio Civil de Ponce (Ponce Civil Cemetery), in that city's Barrio Segundo neighborhood.
Lavoe's life has inspired two biographical films. The first, El Cantante, was produced by salsa artist Marc Anthony, who played 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. Production was suspended in August 2008 after the director, Anthony Felton, reported that it was over budget. Carbonell noted that he would reconsider his involvement if production were to resume.
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 the direct result of his involvement in a tour of Quien Mato a Héctor Lavoe? in Puerto Rico, and, depending upon negotiations, possibly Peru and Colombia. An urban tribute album was released in late 2007 performed by several reggaeton artists such as Don Omar which sampled 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.
Tremont Avenue in the New York City's Borough of The Bronx was renamed in his honor, and remembrance.
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)
- 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". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "Hector Lavoe - La Voz". CODIGO Group. Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
- "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". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. 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.
- "Salsa Connects the Dots". Vice Sports LLC. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
- "A Tale of Two Singers". Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
- "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". Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. 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. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- "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.
- "International Latin Music Hall of Fame Announces Year 2000 Inductees". March 1, 2000. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- Statue honoring late Puerto Rican salsa star unveiled. Fox News Latino. 2 June 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
- "Hector Lavoe - Discografia" (in Spanish). Archived from the original on March 20, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
- "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
- Héctor 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")