(Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez; Ponce, 1946 – New York, 1993) Puerto Rican singer and composer, considered one of the best interpreters of Caribbean music of all time and a pioneer in the introduction of New York salsa in the early 1970s.
He was part of the legendary orchestra of trombonist Willie Colón and was known by the nickname of El Cantante de los Cantantes.
-.Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez was born on September 30, 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His parents Luis and Francisca are musicians who, from song to song, manage to support a large family of several children.
-. In the year of Hector’s birth, the singers who would influence him are much older: Daniel Santos is 30 years old; Ismael Rivera, better known as “Maelo”, is 15; and Jose “Cheo” Feliciano is eleven.
-. At the age of three, he suffers his first loss: the death of Francisca Martínez, his mother.
-. Juan Morel Campos is a music academy where his father enrolls him. Héctor begins to learn classical music, but he quickly decides to learn what is played in the streets. Jesús Sánchez Erazo, better known as “Chuito el de Bayamón”, is his first idol.
-. Sings the song Campanitas de cristal, a bolero composed by Rafael Hernández Marín, at a school party.
-. In the early sixties, he forms with friends, including Papo Luca, a group that performs boleros and salsas. He earns 18 dollars a night and his talent seduces the people of Ponce. He is invited to sing on television programs. Musicians Felipe Rodríguez and Tito Lara give him a promising future.
-. At the age of 17, being recognized in his native Ponce, he travels to New York. His family does not agree with his departure. In the city he is greeted by the ghost of the death of a brother, who was supposedly a drug addict. He stays in the apartment of Priscila, one of his older sisters.
Before joining the Fania All Stars for the first time, a group directed by the Dominican Johnny Pacheco, he was part of bands such as Orquesta Nueva York and Alegre All Stars.
-. In 1966, at the age of 21, he sings alongside Pete Rodríguez, Adalberto Santiago, Tito Puente, Richie Ray, among other artists, in the incipient Fania All Stars. He meets Willie Colón, an American musician with Puerto Rican parents. “We both knew the world in the Bronx neighborhood. I learned to speak Spanish with Hector, although at first I understood what he was saying. I remember he had a brilliant sense of humor and was a great imitator of singers,” said Colón in an interview.
-. In 1967, he achieved fame with his first album with Willie Colón. It is a mixture of genres such as guaracha, plena and guaguancó, and is entitled El Malo. The album is a tribute to the slum culture of the United States and Latin America.
-. He tries to work as a painter, but his sister won’t allow it. After two weeks, he attends a musical rehearsal with his backing vocalist friend Roberto Garcia. Hector takes the microphone and makes the orchestra directors fall in love with him.
-. At the beginning of 1968 he meets Carmen, a follower he meets at a concert. On October 30 of that year Jose Alberto, his first son, is born.
-. After the birth of Jose Alberto, he has his second son with Nilda Román, another follower. With her, who is nicknamed “La Puchi”, he finally marries and stays in an apartment in Queens. Héctor Junior is the name of his second son.
-. At the end of the sixties he becomes addicted to drugs. In more than one stage he leaves the audience in a daze.
-. In 1971 he is called again to record, together with other stars, Fania All Stars at the Cheetah. This combo featured Cheo Feliciano, Richie Ray, Ismael Miranda, Celia Cruz and the young Rubén Blades. In 1973, the group filled the Yankee Stadium bleachers. Anacaona, Quítate tú and Ahora vengo yo are some of their hits.
-. With Willie Colón, he recorded more than 18 albums between 1967 and 1973. Thousands of reissues of Asalto navideño, El Juicio and Lo Mato were made. Che che colé, Ausencia, Calle luna calle sol, Todo tiene su final are the most requested songs by the Latin American public.
(H3) -. Willie Colón dissolves the duet in 1974. However, both continue to work. Lavoe’s talent continues despite his excesses and the author of Talento de televisión knows it well.
-. In 1975 he releases La voz, his first solo album. This incursion is interpreted as a second wind in his career. So much is his energy to continue that he releases eight more albums. De ti depende (1976) is a collection of boleros and Comedia (1978) breaks sales with the song El cantante, written by Rubén Blades. This work was also produced by Willie Colón, who that year teamed up with Blades to record Siembra, the best-selling salsa album.
-. His interpretation of El cantante helps to build the nickname “El cantante de los cantantes” (The singer of the singers).
-. He performs at the Coliseo Evangelista Mora in Cali in 1977. This concert was attended by the writer Andrés Caicedo, who managed to take a picture with Lavoe in the dressing room. Months later, the author of ¡Qué viva la música! committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates.
-. As a result of a strong depression, Lavoe is interned in a mental sanatorium in the United States in 1977. His heroin addiction, which he had begun to suffer at the end of the sixties, is not only known by those close to him but also by his fans. “He paid a lot of attention to me and, when he was in trouble, he would call me”, confessed singer Ismael Miranda in an interview.
-. Lives in Cali between November 1982 and March 1983 at the Hotel Aristi. He is a regular singer at the Juan Pachanga discotheque, owned by Larry Landa, a concert organizer. In the capital of the Valley it is said that Lavoe takes drugs during the day and tries to sing at night.
In February 1987, due to a fire, he jumps out of his apartment in Queens. At the same time, in Puerto Rico, his mother-in-law is stabbed to death.
-. On May 7, 1987, his son Hector is hit by a stray bullet. “That death broke his heart,” said Tito Nieves in an interview. “At that moment Héctor Lavoe’s soul dies”.
-. He is diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. Those who visit him in the hospital maintain that he does not lose his sense of humor nor his desire to return to the stage.
-. In Bayamón, Puerto Rico, he sings Mi Gente in a patron saint festival. But his presentation is sabotaged by one of the organizers who supposedly owes him money; in the middle of the song the lights are turned off and Lavoe is left without sound to continue.
-. In 1988, he throws himself from the ninth floor of a hotel in San Juan. He survives to continue fighting the battle. He sings on a Bronx street in 1989. His physical deterioration is a reflection of his state of mind. Lavoe is a ghost of his former self.
-. Tito Nieves is one of his friends who accompanies him in his difficult days. Lavoe depended on other people to live. A thrombosis paralyzes part of his body.
-. In March 1993, pushed by his record company, he makes his last presentation in New Jersey. He sings with Roberto Roena’s orchestra. Maestro Roena is not able to play in front of the “Singer of singers”. “It was too much to put him on stage”, he said indignantly.
-. At the age of 46 he dies of a cardiac arrest, on June 29, 1993, in New York. “He came into the world to enjoy it and suffer it. Although he was not happy, he made many people happy,” said his sister Priscila.
-. He is buried in Puerto Rico. He is accompanied by a horde of followers. The presence of his friend Ismael Miranda stands out, who bids him farewell saying: “He is not here with us, but his music continues”.
-. In 2007, El cantante, a movie inspired by his life, was released. It stars Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
-. Currently there are two monuments in his honor. One in his native Ponce, Puerto Rico, and another in Callao, Peru.