Willie Colón

The salsa musician Willie Colón incorporated the aesthetics of Nuyorican culture into his music, which led to a career of social activism. Colón was born in the Bronx, New York City, in 1950; both of his parents had come to the United States mainland from Puerto Rico. He played trumpet and trombone at a young age and was influenced by the horn-led sound of early salsa musicians. At the age of fifteen, he signed to Fania Records and released his debut album, El Malo, at seventeen. He was paired with singer Hector Lavoe and, through 1975, the Colón/Lavoe nexus defined the sound of Nuyorican salsa music. Also in 1975, Colón began studying music theory and composition, which resulted in a noticeably different style and more successful records. Lavoe was replaced by Rubén Blades and, in 1978, Siembra became the best-selling Fania album. In 1982, Canciónes del Solar de los Aburridos won the artist his first Grammy. Colón and Blades worked together until 1983, after which Colon formed the band Legal Alien with younger musicians and signed to Sony. In 1995 he became the first person of color to serve on the national board for the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. Through the 2000s, Colón released albums regularly, sometimes more than one per year, despite leaving Sony after it failed to provide promotional support. Having had worked as an activist since he was sixteen, Colon ran for the United States Congress in 1992 and, in 2001, for the Public Advocate of New York City. He lost both elections but continued to involve himself in city politics and served as the mayor’s liaison for the Latin Media Entertainment Commission. In 2018 he started his own American music community.