Latin salsa icon Willie Colón is well-known throughout the world. A renowned singer, composer, humanitarian, political activist, trombonist and liaison for the Latin American community to the mayor’s office, Colón will be appearing at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx on Saturday, June 8 at 8 p.m., as Deardra Shuler reports.
The concert is being produced by Lehman Center and Jose Raposo as part of the 2013 Blue Note Jazz Festival, and the theme of the show will be in dedication to the Nuyorican community, a term referring to the Puerto Rican diaspora located in New York City and state.
Born in the Bronx, Colón has been playing music since age 14. “I’ve been making music since [I was] a kid. I grew up in the South Bronx on 139th Street. I listened to all the musicians on the streets. My grandmother bought me a trumpet when I was 11 years old and I learned to play it, eventually switching to the trombone. This is why I want to dedicate my concert at Lehman to a Nuyorican theme. There have been Puerto Ricans in New York since the 1900s. The migration started right after the Jones Act, when the U.S. made Puerto Rico U.S. territory. There was a mass migration in the early 1900s, when my family came over.”
Once the Nuyoricans came to America, they also faced the Jim Crow era along with the Blacks. In fact, many of us learned to speak English from our Black brothers. There is a link between the Latinos and our African-American brothers. Much of our music is from Africa. Bomba is African, and meringue is African. As a matter of fact, back in the 1960s, about 50 percent of the crowd listening to our music was African-American. We were playing boogaloo in English and a lot of instrumental stuff back then,” said Colón.
Colón has recorded more than 40 albums and sold 30 million records worldwide. He has been nominated for 11 Grammys and received a Lifetime Achievement Latin Grammy Award. An accomplished artist, he has worked with the best—folks likes Rubén Blades, David Byrne, Hector LaVoe and Celia Cruz—and even appeared with the Fania All-Stars. In 2010, he produced “Estar lejos,” a duet recording with Colombian musical star Fonseca.
“Fonseca is kind of a balladeer. He sent me an email asking me to listen to the song that eventually became ‘Estar lejos.’ I did an arrangement and sent it back to him. It was then he asked that we record the song together. Fonseca came to New York and brought some folks who used these little cameras which we used to record in the studio and then in the streets. The video came out excellent. Before we knew it, the song took off and was nominated for a Grammy. I never expected it to turn out so well.”
“Currently, I have a few projects in mind. I would really like to put together a group of guys with a sketch and just play. As soon as the opportunity presents itself, that is what I plan to do,” remarked the trombonist.
Colón has served as a member of several boards of directors. He chaired the Association of Hispanic Arts. He was on the board of the United Nations Immigrant Foundation. He was the first minority to serve on the ASCAP National Board of Trustees. In 1991, Willie was awarded Yale University’s CHUBB Fellowship. He was a spokesperson for CARE, and he campaigned to end U.S. military occupation and bombing of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico, which earned him the EPA’s Environmental Quality Award.
“I have been involved in a few political interests. I was involved in the elections in Venezuela, trying to help the opposition candidate against the socialist dictatorship. I produced a theme song for the campaign of Henrique Capriles Radonski and sent it to him. It was just a campaign jiggle, but it became a big hit. It went to countries like Puerto Rico and Columbia, places that had nothing to do with the campaign. It went viral and got millions of hits. It’s kind of cool to see stuff like that happen. I plan to play the song during my Lehman concert,” remarked Colón. “I also directed my attention toward a resolution concerning immigration. As you know, immigration is an important issue affecting the Latin American community right now. In Latin America, there is huge debt and mismanagement caused via governmental leaders.”
“I personally believe it’s the result of presidents and dictators spending and borrowing monies for their own resources, which has put their various countries in debt. Quincy Jones, Bono and I brought a petition to Pope John Paul asking him to sign on to help forgive Third World debt for all the Latin American countries in debt to the World Bank. The pope did sign, and we took the petition at that time to President Bill Clinton. I was also involved with CARE. I went up into the Andes and helped the indigenous people there make microbanks, explaining how the people could pool their monies together to buy livestock and help construct water tanks, etc.,” said Colón of his political and humanitarian efforts.
Colón is proud of his Latin roots and hopes to participate in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which occurs June 9, the day after his concert. He is most proud of his Latin folkloric albums because they were the music his grandmother loved. He hopes to play some of his most heartrending music at Lehman and looks forward to greeting his fans and Latin music enthusiasts on Saturday, June 8.
Interested parties can buy tickets to the Willie Colón concert by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 or by visiting www.lehmancenter.org.