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Rubén Blades: 1948—: Salsa Singer, Actor, Activist

Political Unrest Sobered Dreams Of Music

Blades got his first shot on stage as a last-minute replacement for the lead singer in his brother's rock-cover band, the Saints. Although he dreamed of playing in a band, the sobering 1964 Panama Canal riots led Blades to concentrate more on politics and his education. Though he continued to pursue his interest in writing socially conscious lyrics and singing Latin music, he pursued his law degree at the University of Panama.

When his university closed due to political unrest in Panama in 1969, Blades took a trip to New York City. There he witnessed Latin Americans living successfully in the States. Many of them, including Tito Puente, Machito, and Willie Colón, were making their way as musicians. He recorded his first album, De Panama a Nueva York: Pete Rodriguez Presenta a Rubén Blades, in 1970. The album did not sell well and, when the university was reopened, Blades resumed his education, graduating with his law degree in 1972. He worked as an attorney and performed with local bands in his spare time.

At a Glance . . .

Born Rubén Blades on July 16, 1948, in Panama City, Panama; son of Anoland (a piano player and singer) and Rubén Blades Sr. (a bongo player, basketball player, and police detective); divorced. Education: University of Panama, BA, political science and law, 1972; Harvard University, MA, international law, 1985.

Career: Songwriter and performer, 1970–; Banco Nacional, Panama City, Panama, member of legal staff, 1973-74; Fania Records, New York City, recording artist and legal advisor, 1973-83; Actor, 1981–; Elektra Records, New York City, recording artist, 1984–.

Memberships: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; Screen Actors Guild; American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; Harvard Law School Association, vice-president, 1984-85; Colegio Nacional de Abogados (Panamanian law association).

Awards: Named honorary citizen, City of Chicago, 1984; Time magazine "Top Ten Albums of the Year" list, for Buscando América, 1984, and for Escenas, 1985; New York Award for Buscando América, 1985 and for Escenas, 1986; New York Music Awards for Best Ethnic/International Act and Best Latin Act, New York Post, 1986; Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance for Escenas, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1986.

Addresses: Office—c/o David Maldonado Management, 1674 Broadway, Ste. 703, New York, NY 10019. Agent—c/o Paul Schwartman, International Creative Management, 8899 Beverly Hills Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.

Blades's father, a secret policeman for the government, was accused by General Manuel Antonio Noriega of spying for the American CIA. He refuted the charges, but moved to Miami with his family in 1973. Blades moved to New York a year later, and first worked for the Panamanian Consulate while trying to break into the salsa scene. He did so literally by taking a job in the mailroom of New York's leading salsa record label, Fania Records. It was there he got his big break, and began singing with Ray Baretto's traditional salsa band. He made his debut at Madison Square Garden with the band in 1974.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalRubén Blades: 1948—: Salsa Singer, Actor, Activist Biography - Political Unrest Sobered Dreams Of Music, Recorded Most Successful Salsa Record, Created Socially Conscious, Yet Danceable Music