This article is about the musician. For the football player, see Willie Colon (American football).
William Anthony Colón Román (born April 28, 1950) is a Nuyorican (a New York-born Puerto Rican) salsa musician and social activist. He began his career as a trombonist, and also sings, writes, produces and acts. He is also involved in the politics of New York City and international politics.
Willie Colón a Nuyorican, born in the South Bronx, New York, to Nuyorican Puerto Rican parents from Puerto Rican grandparents. He picked up the trumpet from a young age, and later switched to trombone, inspired by the all-trombone sound of Mon Rivera and Barry Rogers. He spent some summers at his maternal grandmother's sister's (La finca de Celín y Ramón) farm in the outskirts of Manatí, Puerto Rico on the road to neighboring Ciales, Puerto Rico.
At the age of 15 he was signed to Fania Records and at 17 he recorded his first album, which ultimately sold more than 300,000 copies. Due to fortuitous events, the main record producer at Fania at the time, Johnny Pacheco, recommended Héctor Lavoe to him.
He has also acted in films, including roles in Vigilante (1983), The Last Fight (1983) and It Could Happen to You (1994).
Colón has been a civil rights, community and political activist since the age of 16. He has served as a member of the Latino Commission on AIDS and the United Nations Immigrant Foundation, President of the Arthur Schomburg Coalition for a Better New York, member of the Board of Directors of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In 1995, Mr. Colón became the first minority to serve on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) national board and is now a member of the ASCAP Foundation.
Beyond the trombone, he has also worked as a composer, arranger, and singer, and eventually as a producer and director. Combining elements of jazz, rock, and salsa, his work incorporates the rhythms of traditional music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the other ancestral homeland, Africa, representing the mostly one-way flow from Puerto Rico to the New York-based diaspora. "His life and music commute back and forth between his home turf in the Bronx and his ancestral Puerto Rico, with more than casual stop-offs in other musical zones of the Caribbean." Colón "makes the relation between diaspora and Caribbean homeland the central theme of his work," particularly in his 1971 Christmas album, Asalto navideño. The lyrics and music of the songs on this album "enact the diaspora addressing the island culture in a complex, loving but at the same time mildly challenging way."
He went on to have many successful collaborations with salsa musicians and singers such as Ismael Miranda, Celia Cruz and Soledad Bravo, and singer-songwriter Rubén Blades. On his website, Colón claims to hold the "all time record for sales in the Salsa genre, having created 40 productions that have sold more than thirty million records worldwide."
One significant overarching theme in Colón's music, which draws from many cultures and several different styles, is an exploration of the competing associations that Puerto Ricans have with their home and with the United States. He uses his songs to depict and investigate the problems of living in the U.S. as a Puerto Rican, and also to imply the cultural contributions that Puerto Ricans have to offer.
In 1999, Colón was a member of the Jubilee 2000 Delegation to the Vatican along with Randolph Robinson of Trans Africa, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, Bono from U2 and Quincy Jones. This initiative received Pope John Paul II's endorsement and later prompted President Clinton to forgive the US portion of the third world indebted countries.
In 2001, Willie Colón ran for Public Advocate of the City of New York, garnering a respectable 101,393 votes, more than many other citywide candidates.
In September 2004, Colón received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Over the course of his career, he has collaborated with notable musicians such as the Fania All-Stars, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, David Byrne, and Celia Cruz. Siembra, his record with Rubén Blades, was the best selling album for its genre.
Colón has served as the chair of the Association of Hispanic Arts.
In addition to serving as a visiting professor and receiving honorary degrees for music and humane letters at various universities, in 1991, Colón received Yale University's Chubb Fellowship.
In 2006, Willie Colón is portrayed by actor John Ortiz to Marc Anthony's Héctor Lavoe in the movie El Cantante, starring Jennifer Lopez. The movie is about the life of Héctor Lavoe and it covered their early career as the top salsa duo from the 1960s through the mid-1970s.
Colón currently serves as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's representative advisor and liaison to the Latin Media Entertainment Commission (to which Robert De Niro and Jennifer Lopez serve as the celebrity chairs). Colón's base of operations, ELMALO, is in New Rochelle, New York.
On April 16, 2008, Colón announced his endorsement of U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.
Colón has also recently released two new singles, in promotion for his new album El Malo Vol II: Prisioneros del Mambo, "Amor de Internet" and "Corazón Partido."
On April 25, 2010, Colón appeared at The National Mall for The Earth Day Climate Rally, along with Sting, John Legend, The Roots, Jimmy Cliff, Passion Pit, Bob Weir, Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, Patrick Stump, Mavis Staples, Booker T, Honor Society and Tao Rodríguez-Seeger.
On October 7, 2011, Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association recognized Colón for his social and community activism and support.
In 2012 and 2013, Colón actively campaigned against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the socialist Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez addressed Colón via Twitter admonishing Colón to mind his business: "Zapatero a sus zapatos" ("shoemaker tend to your shoes"). After Chávez' death, Willie Colón endorsed opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, vigorously using social media and composing a campaign theme "Mentira Fresca" ("Fresh Lies" which became the regime's candidate, Nicolás Maduro's nickname) the song went viral in Latin America, garnering millions of plays and downloads. Colón continues to be active in Venezuelan politics having pressed for the release of journalist Leocenis García and most recently the release of political prisoner General Antonio Rivero