Héctor Lavoe
Photo courtesy of Hispanicize

Héctor Lavoe — born Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez — is known as one of Puerto Rico’s most important salsa singers. Born on September 30, 1946, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the prominent entertainer started his professional musical career by moving to New York City when he was sixteen. He is known for his work in salsa, bolero, and Latin jazz.

Following the relocation, he sang in different groups. He started off singing in a sextet founded by Roberto García. He also sang with the Orquesta New York, Kako All-Stars, and Johnny Pacheco’s band, per JazzVnu. He then recorded and performed as a duo with Willie Colón.

And that was just the start.

How Héctor Lavoe Changed the Music Scene

His music was thoroughly heard in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. According to sources, what made him one of the most popular in Latin music was “the clearness and brightness of his voice,” paired with his “impeccable diction and the ability to sing long and fast phrases with total naturalness.” He was also adored because “he never sang a song the same way twice.”

As a soloist, he released the song “El Cantante,” composed by Rubén Blades and produced by Willie Colón – arguably one of Lavoe’s most popular songs. The song later became the title of one of his biographical films. In El Cantante, he was portrayed by Marc Anthony. 

“El Cantante” was part of his album Comedia, which is one of his signature albums – often remembered by the album cover where he portrays Charlie Chaplin.

Downfall and legacy

Although Héctor Lavoe was famous and even went on occasional tours with The Fania All Stars, he was deeply troubled with depression and drug addiction. He would check in and out of rehab and even be devoted to santeria to help him recover from his depression. The ups and downs of his career became so regular that Johnny Pacheco wrote “El Rey de la Puntualidad” about his routines. It became a hit. 

However, it wasn’t enough to get him permanently on his feet. Héctor Lavoe experienced professional mistreatment, which included: “not being paid for performances, being held at gunpoint, being given inferior accommodations, being transported in unsafe vehicles.” After this, he also experienced multiple deaths of loved ones. He even attempted suicide in the late 1980s.

In 1985, Hector Lavoe was diagnosed with HIV when AZT and other AIDS drugs were not yet available. 

Lavoe eventually developed complications related to the disease and died in 1993.

His legacy is still remembered and celebrated today as one of the singers that inspired many.