The music of Hector Lavoe remembered at St. Mary’s Park
South Bronx Residents filled St. Mary’s park in Mott Haven on June 26 to pay tribute to one of salsa’s true legends, the late Hector Lavoe, otherwise known as “La Voz,” or “The Voice.”
The event, part of the annual Summer Stage festival, was sponsored by radio station La Mega 97.9. Up and coming urban artist, B.A Star, the son of a band member of internationally renowned salsa group El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, performed some of his own hits, but also covered some Latin classics.
Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr kicked off the festivities, calling himself “the president of the borough of salsa,” and stirring the crowd into cheers with a shout of “Long live Hector Lavoe!”
Puerto Rican flags were everywhere—on shirts, hats, lawn chairs and tattooed on arms. Several festival-goers wore Lavoe shirts in honor of their idol.
Lavoe, the lead vocalist in South Bronxite Willie Colon’s iconic salsa band of the 1960s and ‘70s, died in 1993 at 46, after battling drug addiction and depression. He came to the city from Puerto Rico in 1967 at the age of 21, and found instant success as Colon’s vocalist of choice.
Charlie Mendoza, a Long Island resident came to the South Bronx hungry for salsa, and in particular for a dose of La Voz.
“I’m a fan of Lavoe, big time,” he said. “I like how he sings and improvises. It’s not about following the lyrics of the song; it’s about what he feels.”
Once the orchestra began playing some of the best known songs in salsa, impromptu dance floors were created all over the field, facing the stage. An elderly woman dropped her Puerto Rican-flag draped walker, grabbed the nearest man and began dancing to Lavoe’s “Periodico de Ayer.” Shouts of “Wepa!” erupted and another improvised dance floor formed around the couple.
A sense of nostalgia prompted Angel Rivera, a Bronx resident and percussionist, to attend the concert.
“With Hector, I was about 13 years old, I had a rehearsal with them,” he said, motioning towards the orchestra. “That’s how I picked up the music with them, in El Barrio.”
Felicita Reyes, a former Bronxite, came with instruments so that she could make noise alongside the performers.
“I’m here for dancing. That’s my thing. That and playing my maracas,” she said, shaking the maracas.
Reyes attends many salsa events in the borough, and plans to see more of them this summer.
“I’m Puerto Rican, I love all of Hector’s songs, and I have all his albums,” she said.