About this Artist
Nuyorican (New York-born Puerto Rican) William “Willie” Anthony Colón Román was born in the South Bronx in 1950 to Nuyorican/Puerto Rican parents and Puerto Rican grandparents. He picked up the trumpet at a young age and later switched to trombone, inspired by the all-trombone sound of Mon Rivera and Barry Rogers. At the age of 15, he was signed to Fania Records and, at 17, recorded his first album, which ultimately sold more than 300,000 copies.
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 Africa.
Colón went on to have many successful collaborations with salsa musicians and singers such as Ismael Miranda, Celia Cruz, Soledad Bravo, and singer-songwriter Rubén Blades. A 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 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 released his album El Malo Vol. II: Prisioneros del Mambo in 2008, featuring the singles “Amor de Internet” and “Corazón Partido.”
In 2015, Billboard Magazine named Willie Colón one of the 30 most influential Latin Artists of All Time. In 2016, he began his 50th Anniversary Tour, which ran through 2017 and presented concerts in Puerto Rico, Colombia, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Tampa, Mexico, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Melbourne, and Sydney.
In 2017, Colón announced his book, Barrio de Guapos (The Secret Life of Willie Colón) and the launch of his record label Willie Colón Presents.
Colón has served as the Chair of the Association of Hispanic Arts. He has also acted in films, including roles in Vigilante (1983), The Last Fight (1983), and It Could Happen to You (1994). In 2006, he was portrayed by actor John Ortiz opposite Marc Anthony’s Héctor Lavoe in the movie El Cantante, starring Jennifer Lopez. The movie is about the life of Héctor Lavoe; it covers the duo’s early career as the top salsa duo from the 1960s through the mid-1970s.
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, and member of the Board of Directors of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In 1995, Colón became the first minority individual to serve on the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) national board and is now a member of the ASCAP Foundation.
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. 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 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. He served as former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s representative advisor and liaison to the Latin Media Entertainment Commission (for which Robert De Niro and Jennifer Lopez served as the celebrity chairs). Colón’s base of operations, ELMALO, is in New Rochelle, New York.
In 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.
In 2011, Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association recognized Colón for his social and community activism and support. In 2014, Willie Colón joined the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department as a Deputy Sheriff. He is currently a Deputy Lieutenant with the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.
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