Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Lawyer, and
Rubén Blades was
born in a rooming house in a small Latin
American country, but he refused to see
limitations or barriers; his work has crossed
geopolitical borders, cultures, and genres,
and has made an impact throughout the world.
As a musician he has won 14 Grammys and Latin
Grammys, including one in the World Music
category and one in the Latin Grammy Cantautor
category. As an actor he has won a Cable ACE
Award and received three Emmy, Independent
Spirit, and ALMA nominations. ASCAP honored
him with its Founders Award, and the Grammy
Recording Academy with its Heroes Award. The
Hispanic Heritage Foundation honored him with
its arts award, and the Hispanic
Organization of Latin Actors honored him with
its Raúl Juliá HOLA Founders Award.
Blades has made landmark albums in classic
Afro-Cuban salsa as well as Afro-Cuban music
touched with rock, jazz, pan-Latin, and other
influences from around the world. He has
collaborated with rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop,
reggaeton, and salsa artists. He has composed
hundreds of songs and dozens of hits known for
their eloquent, politically-aware lyrics,
colorful characters, and memorable melodies.
Beyond his artistic success, Blades has always
had an eye for political activism. In 1994 he
formed a political party, Movimiento Papa
Egoró (“Mother Earth” in the indigenous Embera
language), and ran for president of his native
He holds degrees in political science and law
from the University of Panama and an LLM
degree from Harvard Graduate Law School. He
was named U.N. World Ambassador Against Racism
in 2000. In 2006 the president of Chile
awarded him the Pablo Neruda Order of Cultural
Merit, and in 2010 the president of Ecuador
honored him with their Orden Nacional al
Mérito Cultural. He has received Honorary
Doctorate degrees from Berkeley University in
California (Chicano Studies), Lehman College
in the Bronx (Humanities) and the Berklee
College of Music in Boston (Music).
The Loeb Music Library at Harvard University
formed The Rubén Blades Archives in 2009 with
the purpose of collecting his work and papers.
He is married to Broadway actress/singer Luba Mason
and currently lives in NYC. On 12/31/14
he publicly acknowledged (Spanish,
that he has a son born in 1975.
believes that your actions should match your
words, and that public service is a duty.
"Si piensas y haces lo que sientes,
Rubén, Anoland 1949
Rubén Blades (pronounced 'Bleids' in
Panama and by the family) was born on 16 July 1948, of
grandparents born in Colombia, St. Lucia, Spain, and
New Orleans, USA in the cultural crossroads nation of
Panama. From birth, Blades was exposed to music
through both of his parents. His mother Anoland
Bellido de Luna was born in Cuba and sang and played
the piano. His father Rubén Blades Sr. was born in
Colombia and played percussion. Radio, playing every
kind of music, was a constant presence in their home.
His grandmother Emma Blades Bosques was also a
powerful influence. She was a spiritualist, a
Rosicrucian, a vegetarian, a painter, a poet, and a
feminist. She taught him to read and exposed him to
Emma who was with me at all times, instilled me
with a sense of justice, that we can all serve as
part of the solution. That is the perspective from
which I developed and the foundation to help me
His English-speaking grandfather Reuben Blades was
born in St. Lucia, and came to work in Panama as an
accountant during the building of the Panama Canal. On
the Cuban side, Rubén descends from writers and
revolutionaries who fought for independence from
In Panama, Blades grew up
on U.S. culture and rock & roll. At age 9,
he saw Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers in the
Rock, Rock and tried to write a letter
asking to join the group. His mother didn’t mail
the letter, but she did buy him a plastic
Then in 1964,
civilians were killed and wounded by U.S.
soldiers and Canal Zone police during riots that
erupted when students tried to fly the flag of
Panama next to that of the U.S. at Balboa High
School. This event was traumatic for the nation
and deeply affected the fifteen-year-old Blades.
"They turned friends into
enemies. Even today , that's the pity of
U.S. policy in Latin America."
As a student at the University
of Panama he composed, sang, and recorded
with various groups. including Los Salvajes del Ritmo
and Bush y sus Magnificos. When the university
closed due to riots in 1968, he traveled to
New York City and contacted Pancho Cristal, Cheo
producer. Cristal had heard Blades sing in
Panama and put him together with “Boogaloo”
Pete Rodríguez to make an album. From Panama to New York was
released in 1970 but didn't attract much
attention. Blades says that due to the Che
Guevera-inspired song "Juan González", it was
banned in 17 countries.
Blades returned to his country to finish his law
degree. Immediately after graduating he joined
his family in Miami in 1974, who had been
pressured to leave Panama for political reasons.
He then traveled again to New York and took the
only job available at Fania Records: in the
"They wouldn't record me. I had to push a
cart full of mail from 57th and Broadway to
52nd Street every day."
He seized the opportunities this contact gave
him with the New York Latin music scene.
Performers such as Richie
Ray and Bobby
Cruz, Nestor Sanchez, Bobby Rodríguez, Tito
Roena, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, and Ismael
Miranda recorded his compositions.
His chance to sing came when Ray
Barretto formed a new orchestra, and
auditioned him in the mailroom. He was hired
to share lead vocals with Tito Gomez, debuting
at Madison Sq. Garden on July 26, 1974, and
recording the Grammy-nominated album Barretto (1975) and Tomorrow: Barretto Live
(1976). He performed with Larry
Harlow's Orquesta Harlow and sang on the
Grammy-nominated La Raza Latina (1977).
He provided many backup and guest vocals for
other Fania recordings and the Fania
All-Stars. A guest appearance on Willie
Colón's The Good the Bad the
Ugly (1975) brought him widespread
recognition for his song "El Cazangero" (lyrics
"Ray was more interested in Afro-Cuban
music and jazz. Willie was more interested with things
that had to do with Latin America, and he
allowed me to record my songs. It was a
wonderful group of people, which I had the
privilege to meet and work with."
This successful collaboration led to Blades
joining forces with Willie
Colón, replaceing Héctor
Lavoe as singer, and bringing his own
ideas and compositions with him. The
Colón/Blades partnership would mark an
important shift in salsa
Their album Siembra (1978) was
an international smash hit, with songs and
arrangements that spoke to both the head and the
feet, and uplifting and compelling social
messages and colorful stories. The song "Pedro
Navaja" broke records and remains a beloved
"All of a sudden you had a record
that was confronting issues and that was
unheard of at the time."
This ground-breaking album
was followed by another, the two part Maestra
Vida (1980), a musical drama using
characters to explore social issues in a very
personal way. Blades blended theatrical,
literary, and political concepts with the music
of the streets to tell his story of a family in
the barrio. The work has been produced onstage
in Panama and elsewhere in Latin America.
In 1982, Blades was given the opportunity to
pursue his interest in acting. Fania owner Jerry
Massucci offered him a role in a low budget
movie entitled The Last Fight, directed by Fred
played a boxer who also sang, so we could
sell a few records."
Although the film was not successful, it gave
Blades his first experience in the film medium.
The highly acclaimed independent film Crossover
Dreams directed by Leon Ichaso followed in 1985,
and his acting career was launched. He played a
salsa musician trying to introduce himself into
the American market, and he also co-wrote the
screenplay. It was critically acclaimed and went
into general release as a successful independent
can't say enough for the people of East
Harlem. They brought us soup and let us film
in their homes in exchange for our painting
them. Everybody in the community cooperated.
It was a Latin effort done by ourselves to
seen on SDRB: Seis del Solar July 16,
At the same time, Blades had
decided to form his own band and develop his
own musical ideas. Discontented with Fania’s
business practices, he signed with Elektra
He formed the Joe Cuba-inspired
sextet Seis del Solar, eliminating the
traditional salsa brass section and
experimenting with rock and jazz elements.
When he recorded Buscando America
(1984), rock and jazz journalists around the
world took notice and began to write about him
and his music.
to make an urban American album that can be
appreciated by any American city dweller and
may bring people who haven't identified with
salsa a bit closer to us."
After this success, he took a break to attend
Harvard University School of Law, with the
long-term goal of returning to Panama with the
credentials to be taken seriously in politics.
He earned a Master's Degree in International Law
"I needed something to humble myself, and
believe me, that school, which was no picnic,
The documentary The Return of
Ruben Blades captures his graduation,
and his return to performing.
(1985) brought him his first Grammy. His next
experiment was Agua de Luna
(1987), inspired by short stories of Colombian
magical realist author Gabriel García Márquez,
exploring literary concepts in songs. Working
with rock pioneers Lou Reed, Elvis Costello,
and Sting, he recorded Nothing But the Truth (1988)
where he joined his multi-cultural rhythms and
political themes together with English lyrics.
"I want people to acknowledge the
possibilities of a Latin artist fully -
meaning we can do English, too."
The same year, he expressed
devotion to his roots as Seis del Solar
evolved into Son del Solar, bringing back the
brass section for Antecedente
(1988), which won him his second Grammy.
1988 also saw his first important
Hollywood film role, in The Milagro
Beanfield War directed by Robert
followed by a leading role in Dead Man Out
(1989), where his portrayal of a killer on death
row earned him the Cable ACE Best Actor
Award. [see trailer]
Other acting credits include: Crazy From the
Heart, The Josephine Baker Story (1991),
and The Maldonado Miracle (2003) all
three earning him Emmy nominations; the Broadway
musical The Capeman by Paul Simon
(1998); and the TV series Gideon's Crossing
(2000) and Fear the Walking Dead
was during The
Capeman that he met his current wife
"I started acting by choice, however,
when I get involved in something, I try to learn
everything there is, and what I learned in
Hollywood and television in this country is that
you can't sit around and wait for the
opportunities to come by."
True to his social activism, Rubén Blades
returned to Panama to run for president in
1994, as the founder and head of the Papa
Egoró Movement. He ran a grassroots campaign
of ethics and equality between cultural and
social groups across all economic classes. He
came in third of seven candidates.
"In order to sustain the
integrity of the work, I felt I had to go out
there on the streets and try to make political
change possible through the political process,
not just singing. We proved it could work. We
came in third out of 24 parties, with 18% of
the vote. I'm a better, less selfish person
Returning again to music,
his restlessness led him to incorporate even
broader influences, leading to a trilogy of
Grammy winning recordings: La Rosa de los Vientos
(1996), with Panamanian musicians and
composers; Tiempos (1999)
with the trio Editus, in which he incorporated
elements of contemporary classical music and
jazz; and Mundo
(2002), with an expanded Editus Ensemble,
fusing Irish, Arabic and Afro-Cuban
instruments and rhythms.
This eclectic album won a
Grammy for Best World Music and a Latin Grammy
for Best Contemporary Tropical Album. Guest
artists included bagpiper Eric
Rigler, Brazilian vocal group Boca
Livre, and Broadway singer and actress Luba Mason.
"Racism is absurd and my new
record reflects that."
As guest artist on the Spanish
Harlem Orchestra's second album Across 110th St. (2004) he
received a seventh Grammy award. His
eighth was a Latin Grammy for the video of "La
Perla" with Calle 13 (2008). His ninth was a
Latin Grammy in the Cantautor category, for Cantares del Subdesarrollo
He was honored by the New York
Chapter of the National Academy of Recording
Arts and Sciences with its Heroes Award in
2004, and ASCAP honored him with its Founders
Award in 2005.
"When I go back
to Panama, I'm going to be very happy to be
there because I really believe in my country
and I know we're going to do good things
there. It's not just a romantic dream; we
can make things happen there."
Casco Viejo, a few blocks from Plaza
Herrera in the San Felipe neighborhood
where he was born and raised, he maintained contact with his
fans through SDRB, the Show
de Rubén Blades videos on his web site, featuring
anecdotes, recommendations, and
interviews with artists including Calle
13, Danilo Pérez, and Blades’s wife,
singer and actress Luba
With his government service completed,
2009 and 2010 saw the long-awaited
reunion of the original Seis del Solar
in the “Todos Vuelven Tour”, enjoyed by
a million people across the Americas.
The recording of this concert brought
him a Latin Grammy.
The succeeding years have seen more film
work, portraying manager Carlos Eleta in
the Roberto Duran biopic Hands of Stone.
He has performed concerts with the
Roberto Delgado Orchestra in the U.S.,
Europe and Latin America. His album
Tangos won both a Latin Grammy and a
Grammy, as did the album Son de Panamá
with the Delgado Orchestra.
In another contrary move, he
decided to "pirate the pirates" and put
out his own versions of some existing
bootlegged performances, calling it The
Bootleg Series, on Subdesarrollo
He took a break from touring to star in
the television series Fear the
Walking Dead during 2015-2017.
In 2014 he announced that 2016/2017
would see his last salsa tour, and
declared the possibility of presenting
once more as a candidate for President
of Panama in 2019.
2009 marked the 25th anniversary
of the still revolutionary
On 27 March 2010, Rubén was
interviewed onstage at the Carmichael
Auditorium at the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington D.C.,
jointly sponsored by the American
History Museum and the Smithsonian
Latino Center. (photos)
Tribunal Federal de San Juan: Final
Decisions ~ "Cada cual
tendrá que bregar con el karma
que crean sus acciones".
2013: Final judgement against
Morgalo in favor of Rubén Blades
in his defamation suit [Document
22 2010: granted legal costs of $9,819.81
to be paid by Willie Colon to
Rubén Blades [Document
2010: Partial final judgement in
favor of Rubén Blades against
Morgalo, Martinez &
amount of $133,168.16,
plus interest. [Document
en la conversación manifestó
también su satisfacción porque la
Universidad de Harvard le ha
anunciado que colocará toda su
historia y producción en la
Biblioteca de la institución.
hecho un llamado internacional
para que envíen todo tipo de
material, artículos, libros,
ensayos de universidades,
tesis; va a ser interesante para
mí entender cómo la gente ha
percibido el trabajo mío”, dijo el
creador de Plástico.
2008-2017 Alison Weinstock and Maestravida.com.
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