Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez (30 September 1946 – 29 June 1993), better known as Héctor Lavoe, was a Puerto Ricansalsa singer. Lavoe is considered to be possibly the best and most important singer and interpreter in the history of salsa music because he helped to establish the popularity of this musical genre in the decades of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His personality, style and the qualities of his voice led him to a successful artistic career in the whole field of Latin music and salsa during the 1970s and 1980s. The cleanness and brightness of his voice, coupled with impeccable diction and the ability to sing long and fast phrases with total naturalness, made him one of the favorite singers of the Latin public.
In 1967, Lavoe joined Willie Colón's band as its vocalist, recording several hit songs, including "El Malo" and "Canto a Borinquen". Lavoe moved on to become a soloist and formed his own band performing as lead vocalist. As a soloist, Lavoe recorded several hits including: "El cantante" composed by Rubén Blades, "Bandolera" composed by Colón, and "Periódico de ayer" composed by Tite Curet Alonso. During this period he was frequently featured as a guest singer with the Fania All Stars recording numerous tracks with the band.
In 1979, Lavoe became deeply depressed and sought the help of a high priest of the Santería faith to treat his drug addiction. After a short rehabilitation, he relapsed following the deaths of his father, son, and mother-in-law. These events, along with being diagnosed with HIV, drove Lavoe to attempt suicide by jumping off a Condado hotel room balcony in San Juan PR. He survived the attempt and recorded an album before his health began failing. Lavoe died on 29 June 1993, from a complication of AIDS.
Héctor was born 30 September 1946 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Francisca (Pachita) Martínez and Luis Pérez, and raised in the Machuelo Abajobarrio of the city. He was inspired early in life by his musically talented family. His grandfather, Don Juan Martínez, was a singer of controversial songs, which led to physical confrontations. His uncle was well known in Ponce as a tres player. His mother Francisca, also known as Pachita, was well known by her family and townspeople for her beautiful singing voice. His father, Luis, supported his wife and eight children by singing and playing guitar with trios and big bands. He was in high demand as a guitarist for the Fiestas de Cruz celebrations and other popular religious ceremonies, and he wanted his son to receive formal musical training as a trombonist; Héctor dreamt of being a singer. Héctor was influenced by Puerto Rican singers such as Jesús Sánchez Erazo, also known as "Chuíto el de Bayamón" - one of the island's most successful folk singers, and Daniel Santos. Later in his life, he would record songs with both artists.
Héctor attended the local Juan Morel Campos Public School of Music where the first instrument he learned to play was the saxophone. His classmates included José Febles and multi-instrumentalist Papo Lucca. One of his teachers was very strict and demanded that he practice good diction and manners, and have a strong stage presence. He felt Héctor would become a superstar as a bolero singer. From the start Héctor was a star with exceptional charisma, talent, and charm. One of a kind, his unique voice, refined and with impeccable diction, demanded attention. Well on his way to becoming a popular-music vocalist, he began frequenting clubs such as Segovia, where he sang accompanied by his childhood friends, Roberto García and
José Febles. At age 17, Lavoe abandoned school and sang with a ten-piece band. He moved permanently to New York on 3 May 1963, against his father's wishes, as an older brother had moved there and later died of a drug overdose. It would take many years before Héctor was able to reconcile with his father.