Rubén Blades has three very distinct careers that rarely, if ever, meet. As a Grammy Award-winning musician and salsa singer, Blades has released several salsa albums, including Buscando America, Escenas, Mundo, and Siembra, one of Latin music's most popular albums. As a popular Hollywood actor, he has appeared in such films as The Milagro Beanfield War, The Devil's Own, The Cradle Will Rock, and All the Pretty Horses. As an activist and politician, Blades has long been a champion of human rights issues. When he ran for president of Panama in 1994, he placed a respectable third.
Blades was born on July 16, 1948, in Panama City, Panama. He was the second of five children of Anoland, a piano player and nightclub singer, and Rubén Blades Sr., a musician, basketball player, and police detective. His paternal grandmother, Emma, was a cultured, free-spirited woman who played a major role in the boy's childhood. He grew up during the rock 'n' roll heyday of the 1950s and 1960s listening to Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but the family also listened to the American jazz of Dizzy Gillespie, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington, and to Latin American artists such as Beny Moré, Perez Prado, and the Orquesta Casino de la Playa. Blades idolized Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, who recorded the hit "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?," because Lymon was only 14 when he led the group. He wrote a letter to Lymon, asking to join the group, but Blades's mother, who wanted her son to concentrate on his education, did not send the note, but bought him a guitar instead. His visions of America were formed by the idealistic TV show Father Knows Best.
Earned Law Degree
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 a 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, earning a law degree in 1972. He worked as an attorney, performing with local bands in his spare time.
Blades's father, a member of the government secret police, 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.
Recorded Most Successful Salsa Record
Blades met and began collaborating with the Bronx salsa musician Willie Colón in 1976. With Colón as arranger for Blades's songs, they released Willie Colón Presents Rubén Blades in 1977. Their album Siembra was released in 1978 and was considered the most popular salsa album in history, selling over three million copies. The album also produced a hit single, "Pedro Navaja," that "defied radio formats and yet has become the biggest-selling single in salsa history," according to Billboard. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Blades explained that the album became a hit "Because the people who bought it weren't just the dancers. They identified with the stories as much as the rhythm." Blades forged a new brand of salsa known as "salsa conciente," or salsa with a socially conscious message. Blades was chosen to tour with salsa greats Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, and Tito Puente as part of the Fania All-Stars group. A longtime fan of the silver screen, Blades got a chance to try acting in 1981 in The Last Fight. The film was a commercial failure, but the experience opened doors for Blades.
After five years and four gold records, Blades ceased collaborating with Colón in 1982 to focus on his own work, launching his solo group, Seis del Solar, or "Six from the 'Hood." The group was an unusual blend of traditional salsa and jazz, rock, doo-wop, and various Latin beats. Seis del Solar became very popular in Latin communities, but crossed over into the mainstream with Buscando América, the first salsa record released on a major record label, Elektra/Asylum. While most popular salsa albums are driven by dance and party tunes, Buscando América contained songs that were serious and often political. On the album Blades sang about slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and about the rampant kidnappings in South America, and criticized the Panamanian dictatorship of General Manuel Antonio Noriega. The song "El Tiburón" criticized the United States' actions in Central America, and caused an uproar in Miami's Little Havana community. The song was banned from radio stations, and Blades wore a bulletproof jacket while performing it in Miami. Regardless, the album sold 300,000 copies in its first five months, earned a Grammy Award nomination, and was listed on Time magazine's list of the year's top ten rock albums. After the album, Blades announced he was taking a year off to complete his master's degree in international law at Harvard University, which he did in 1985. He also co-wrote, acted, and sang in the independent film Crossover Dreams, playing a small-time salsa singer who wants to cross over into the mainstream.
For the Record …
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, B.A., political science and law, 1972; Harvard University, M.A., international law, 1985.
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; Elektra Records, New York City, recording artist, 1984–; actor, 1983–; minister of tourism for Panama, 2004–.
Awards: City of Chicago, named honorary citizen, 1984; Time magazine "Top Ten Albums of the Year" list, for Buscando América, 1984, and Escenas, 1985; New York Award for Buscando América, 1985, and Escenas, 1986; New York Post, New York Music Awards for Best Ethnic/International Act and Best Latin Act, 1986; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Grammy Award, Best Tropical Latin Performance, for Escenas, 1986; Latin Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Tropical Album, for Mundo, 2003, and Best Salsa/Meringue Album, for Across 110th Street, 2005.
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.
Socially Conscious Yet Danceable Music
While Buscando América was grounded in social commentary, Escenas, released in 1985, was based on personal relationships. It included a duet with Linda Ronstadt, "Silencios," and the album earned Blades his first Grammy Award. Seis del Solar's 1987 album, Agua de Luna, contained songs inspired by the works of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Marquez. His 1988 album, Nothing But the Truth, was his first album in English, and featured performances by such popular singers as Sting, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, and Lou Reed—a testament to how well known Blades himself had become. The album was strong on social issues. Tunes such as "The Letter" address AIDS; "Salvador" laments human-rights violations; and "Ollie's Doo-Wop" is a sarcastic ditty about Oliver North's involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. In 1989 Blades added a seventh member to his group and changed the name to "Son del Solar," or "Sound of the 'Hood," and released the Grammy Award-winning album Antecedente. Blades earned his third Grammy for La Rosa de los Vientos in 1997.
While he was maintaining a busy recording and touring schedule, Blades was also building his career as a film actor. He appeared in Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War as Sheriff Bernie, who tries to maintain peace between the citizens of a small village in New Mexico and the development company that is trying to build there. Though Blades received strong reviews for his part, the essentially Latin film was criticized because it was directed by an Anglo. His role as a convicted murderer in the HBO movie Dead Man Out was praised by critics, and earned him cable TV's ACE Award. Actor and director Jack Nicholson wanted Blades for his film The Two Jakes, and planned the film's shooting schedule around the musician's touring dates. In 1991 Blades played Petey the bookie in Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues. Also in 1991, Blades played opposite Christine Lahti in Crazy from the Heart, a romantic comedy that addresses racial prejudice. He received an Emmy Award later that year for his role in The Josephine Baker Story. Blades has always tried to avoid being typecast in stereotypical Hispanic roles, such as those of the drug dealer or criminal.
Ran for Panamanian Presidency
Blades is active in many human rights campaigns involving his native Panama, but he has also backed international causes. He appeared with Bono of U2, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and other musicians in the anti-apartheid music video "Sun City" that debuted on MTV in 1988. In 1991 Blades traveled to Panama and founded the Movemiento Papa Egoró, which translates roughly as Mother Earth Party, or Motherland Party. The party vowed to fight hunger, unemployment, and drugs in Panama, and Blades ran for president of Panama on the party's ticket. He wrote and recorded his own campaign song, "The Good Seed," which declared that "change is coming." Though early polls favored him, Blades came in third in the election, a respectable showing for a non-politician. The Papa Egoró party, however, managed to win seven representational seats in the government.
Some critics have suggested that Blades might have been more successful in his bid for president of Panama had he not moved to Hollywood and married a blonde, blue-eyed, North American actress, Lisa Lebenzon. As Blades has achieved more mainstream success and popularity, there have been critics who have accused him of selling out. "Deep down, [Blades] knows he's forgotten his friends, his people, his country, his music, and himself," Leon Ichaso, the director of Crossover Dreams, was quoted as saying, in Rubén Blades. His supporters contend that while Blades has crossed over into the mainstream, he has taken his audiences with him, not left them behind.
Blades's later records became more world-inspired, exploring Celtic, Arabic, and Hindu influences in music. On Tiempos, released in 1999, Blades collaborated with the Costa Rican jazz group Editus to create a pan-Latin sound that he filled out with European classical music. He originally conceived of Mundos as a way to marry Irish and Latin sounds, but ended up making "a kind of map, where I began in the Northeast part of Africa, from Ethiopia, and I took that path to Asia Minor," he is quoted as saying in Billboard. "I crossed part of Turkey, what today are independent Russian republics. I crossed toward Europe and then I jumped to America. During that voyage, I integrated these sounds." Washington Post music critic Fernando Gonzalez wrote: "Blades crosses cultural borders to borrow whatever he feels he needs…. When it works, the sum effect is illuminating."
In 2003 Blades won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Tropical Album for Mundo. In 2005 he won another Grammy Award for Best Salsa/Meringue Album, for Across 110th Street, with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. He was also honored in 2005 with the ASCAP Founders Award, given to songwriters who have made pioneering contributions to music. In that same year, Berklee College of Music awarded Blades an honorary doctoral degree.
Blades has been minister of tourism for Panama since 2004. Describing this position, he told Sandra Marquez in People, "The bureaucracy drives me crazy. I didn't have a boss for, like, 30 years. But I feel that I am trying my best to help my country."
De Panama a Nueva York: Pete Rodriguez Presenta a Rubén Blades, 1970.
Willie Colón Presents Rubén Blades, 1977.
Bohemio y Poeta, Fania, 1979.
Maestra Vida: Primera Parte, Fania, 1980.
Maestra Vida: Segunda Parte, Fania, 1980.
Buscando América, Elektra, 1984.
Escenas, Elektra, 1985.
Crossover Dreams, Elektra, 1986.
Agua de Luna, Elektra, 1986.
Nothing But the Truth, Elektra, 1988.
Antecedente, Elektra, 1988.
Rubén Blades y Son del Solar … Live!, Elektra, 1990.
Caminando, Discos CBS, 1991.
Doble Filo, Fania, 1992.
El Que La Hace La Paga, Fania, 1992.
Rubén Blades with Strings, Fania, 1992.
Amor Y Control, Discos CBS, 1992.
Joseph & His Brothers, Rabbit Ears, 1993.
Rosa de Los Vientos, Sony, 1996.
Tiempos, Sony, 1999.
From Panama, Fania, 2000.
Sembra Y Otros Favoritos Salsa Para Siempre, Musica Latina, 2001.
Salsa Caliente de Nu York, Import, 2002.
Mundo, Sony, 2002.
Una Decada, Sony, 2003.
Across 110th Street, 2005.
The Last Fight, 1983.
Routes of Rhythm, 1984.
Crossover Dreams, 1985.
Critical Condition, 1987.
Fatal Beauty, 1987.
The Return of Rubén Blades, 1987.
The Milagro Beanfield War, 1988.
Dead Man Out, 1989.
Disorganized Crime, 1989.
Mo' Better Blues, 1990.
The Two Jakes, 1990.
Heart of the Deal, 1990.
Predator 2, 1990.
The Lemon Sisters, 1990.
The Super, 1991.
Crazy from the Heart, 1991.
One Man's War, 1991.
The Josephine Baker Story, 1991.
Life with Mikey, 1993.
Miracle on Interstate 880, 1993.
Color of Night, 1994.
A Million to Juan, 1994.
Somos un solo pueblo, 1995.
Yo soy, del Son a la Salsa, 1997.
Chinese Box, 1997.
Scorpion Spring, 1997.
The Devil's Own, 1997.
Cradle Will Rock, 1999.
All the Pretty Horses, 2000.
Gideon's Crossing, 2000.
Assassination Tango, 2002.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico, 2003.
Imagining Argentina, 2003.
The Maldonado Miracle, 2003.
Cruz, Bárbara C., Rubén Blades: Salsa Singer and Human Activist, Enslow Publishers, 1997.
Martin, Betty A., Rubén Blades, Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.
Billboard, September 7, 2002, p. 12; January 8, 2005, p. 24.
Latin Beat, April 2005, p. 19; December, 2005, p. 17.
New York Times, August 26, 1999, p. 3.
People, August 29, 2005, p. 36.
Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2002, p. D10.
Washington Post, November 17, 2002, p. G4.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (February 5, 2006).
"Rubén Blades," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 5, 2006).
"Rubén Blades Biography," Sony Discos Database, http://www.sonydiscos.com/discos/content.nsf/bio/ (January 15, 2006).
"Rubén Blades," Music of Puerto Rico, http://www.musicofpuertorico.com/Ruben_blades.html (February 17, 2006).
"Blades, Rubén." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben-0
"Blades, Rubén." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben-0
Blades, Ruben 1948–
Blades, Ruben 1948–
Full name, Ruben Dario Blades, Jr.; July 16, 1948, in Panama City, Panama; immigrated to the United States, 1974; son of Ruben Dario, Sr. (a bongo player, later a police detective) and Anoland Benita (an actress, singer, and piano teacher; maiden name, Bellido de Luna) Blades; married Lisa A. Lebenzon (an actress), December 13, 1986 (divorced). Education: Instituto Nacional, Panama, B.A., 1966; University of Panama, license in law and political science, 1973; Harvard University, LL.M., 1985; studied acting with George Loros. Religion: Roman Catholic. Avocational Interests: Baseball, soccer, boxing, dominoes, reading, collecting toy soldiers, old books, and old comic books.
Addresses: Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—MBST Entertainment, 345 N. Maple Dr., Suite 200, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Career: Actor, writer, singer, producer, composer, lyricist, and politician. Banco Nacional, Panama City, Panama, member of legal staff, 1973–74; Fania Records, New York City, recording artist, 1973–83; Elektra/Asylum Records, New York City, recording artist, 1984–89. With his band Seis del Solar (Six from the Tenement), has toured U.S. cities, Central America, Europe, and South America; Blades Productions, Inc., founder; songwriter and performer with Pete Rodriguez, with the Willie Colon Orchestra, and as a solo artist; composer of music for films; performs benefit concerts for various causes, including aid for the homeless. Founder of "Papa Egoro" (Mother Earth Party), political party, Panama, 1992; ran for president of Panama in 1994; named Minister of Tourism in Panama, 2004.
Member: 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), Amnesty International.
Awards, Honors: Gold Records, 1977–84; Grammy Award nomination, best Latin album recording, 1982, for Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos; Grammy Award nomination, best tropical Latin performance album, New York Award and top ten albums of the year citations, Time, 1984, all for Buscando America; named honorary citizen, City of Chicago, 1984; Grammy Award, best tropical Latin performance, and New York Award and top ten albums of the year citations, Time, 1985, all for Escenas; New York Music Awards, best ethnic/international act and best Latin act, New York Post, 1986; Grammy Award nomination, best tropical Latin performance album, 1987, for Agua de Luna; Grammy Award nomination, best tropical Latin performance album, 1990, for Antecedente; American Cinema Editors Award, best acting in a movie or miniseries, for Dead Man Out; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or special, 1991, for The Josephine Baker Story; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or special, 1992, for Crazy from the Heart; Grammy Award, best Latin pop performance, 2000, for Tiempos; American Latino Media Arts Award (ALMA), outstanding actor in a new series, 2001, for Gideon's Crossing; Grammy Award, best world music album, 2002, for Mundo.
Andy "Kid" Clave, The Last Fight, Best, 1982.
When the Mountains Tremble, 1983.
Beat Street, Vestron, 1984.
Rudy Valez, Crossover Dreams, Miramax, 1985.
Himself, The Return of Ruben Blades (documentary), Mug-Shot Productions, 1987.
Louis, Critical Condition, Paramount, 1987.
Carl Jimenez, Fatal Beauty, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1987.
Sheriff Bernabe Montoya, The Milagro Beanfield War, Universal, 1988.
Carlos Barrios, Disorganized Crime (also known as Disorganised Crime), Buena Vista, 1989.
Doctor, Homeboy, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1989.
Petey, Mo' Better Blues, Universal, 1990.
The Heart of the Deal, 1990.
Mickey Nice/Michael Weisskopf, The Two Jakes, Paramount, 1990.
C. W., The Lemon Sisters, Miramax, 1990.
Danny Archuletta, Predator 2, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990.
Marlon, The Super, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1991.
(Uncredited) Angie's father, Life with Mikey (also known as Give Me a Break), Buena Vista, 1993.
Bartender, A Million to Juan (also known as A Million to One), Turner Home Entertainment, 1994.
Lieutenant Hector Martinez, Color of Night, Buena Vista, 1994.
Himself, Yo soy, del son a la salsa (documentary; also known as From Son to Salsa), 1997.
Sam Zaragosa, Scorpion Spring, New Line Home Video, 1997.
Jim, Chinese Box, Trimark, 1997.
Edwin Diaz, The Devil's Own, Columbia, 1997.
Diego Rivera, Cradle Will Rock, Buena Vista, 1999.
Don Hector Rocha y Villarael, All the Pretty Horses, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2000.
Miguel, Assassination Tango, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2002.
FBI Agent Jorge, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2003.
Silvio Ayala, Imagining Argentina, Arenas Entertainment, 2003.
Ernesto Bejarano, Spin, Freestyle Releasing, 2003.
Sergio, Carla's father, Secuestro express, Miramax, 2005.
The Hunters and the Hunted: The Making of "Predator 2" (documentary short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2005.
Also appeared in Waiting for Salazar.
Buscando guayabas, 2000.
Television Appearances; Series:
Gideon's Crossing, ABC, 2000–2001.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Ben, Dead Man Out (also known as Dead Man Walking), HBO, 1989.
Perrone, One Man's War, HBO, 1991.
Ernesto Ontiveros, Crazy from the Heart, 1991.
Pepito Abatino, The Josephine Baker Story, 1991.
Pastor Beruman, Miracle on I-880 (also known as Miracle on Interstate 880), NBC, 1992.
Somos un solo pueblo, 1995.
Cruz, The Maldonado Miracle, Showtime, 2003.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Himself, Routes of Rhythm, 1984.
The 28th Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1986.
AIDS: Changing the Rules, PBS, 1987.
The 29th Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1987.
A Latino Session, Cinemax, 1989.
The 31st Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1989.
The Best of Cinemax Sessions, Cinemax, 1990.
Routes of Rhythm with Harry Belafonte, PBS, 1990.
Count Giuseppe Pepito Abatino, The Josephine Baker Story, HBO, 1991.
Ernesto Ontiveros, Crazy from the Heart, TNT, 1991.
The 4th Annual Desi Awards, syndicated, 1992.
Let the Good Times Roll, PBS, 1993.
An American Reunion: New Beginnings, Renewed Hope, HBO, 1993.
In a New Light '93, ABC, 1993.
Concert of the Americas, PBS, 1994.
The Opening Ceremonies of the 1995 Special Olympics World Games, NBC, 1995.
Presenter, The 37th Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1995.
The 1995 NCLR Bravo Awards, Fox, 1995.
Somos un solo pueblo, 1995.
Presenter, The 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, 2000.
Presenter, Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year 2000, CBS, 2000.
Soul Train Christmas Starfest, syndicated, 2000.
Presenter, Lifetime Presents Disney's American Teacher Awards, Lifetime, 2000.
Himself, The Palladium: Where Mambo Was King, 2002.
Encuentro (documentary), 2002.
Himself, En mi pais, 2004.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Luis Juega, Fall Road, NBC, 1996.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, 1985.
Sesame Street, PBS, 1986.
Pero esto que es, 1989, 1990.
Storytime, PBS, 1994.
Conrad Lozano, "El mundo gira," The X-Files (also known as The X Files), Fox, 1997.
Sessions at West 54th, PBS, 1997.
Himself, Lo + plus, 2002.
Martin, "Verguenza," Resurrection Blvd., Showtime, 2002.
Himself, "Lo latino," La tierra de las 1000 musicas, 2005.
2nd Annual Hollywood Salsa and Latin Jazz Festival, Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA, 1995.
Salvador, The Capeman, Marquis Theatre, New York City, 1998.
(With Pete Rodriguez) De Panama a Nueva York, c. 1969.
(With the Willie Colon Orchestra) Metiendo mano, Fania, 1976.
(With the Willie Colon Orchestra) Siembra, Fania, 1977.
Bohemio y poeta, Fania, 1979.
Maestra Vida: Primera parte, Fania, 1980.
Maestra Vida: Segunda parte, Fania, 1980.
(With the Willie Colon Combo) Canciones del solar de los aburridos, Fania, 1982.
Buscando America (title means "Searching for America"), Elektra, 1984.
Escenas (title means "Scenes"), Elektra/Asylum, 1985.
Agua de luna (title means "Moon Water"), Elektra/Asylum, 1987.
Nothing but the Truth, Elektra/Asylum, 1988.
Ruben Blades Live, Elektra/Asylum, 1989.
Antecedente, Elektra, 1990.
Y son del solar (also known as Ruben Blades y son del solar … Live!), Elektra, 1990.
Caminando, Sony-CBS, 1991.
Amor y control, Sony-CBS, 1992.
El que la hace la paga, Fania, 1992.
Best of Ruben Blades, Sony, 1992.
Ruben Blades with Strings, Fania, 1992.
Poeta Latina, Charly Latin, 1993.
Tras la tormenta (also known as After the Storm), Sony Tropical, 1995.
La rosa de los vientos (title means "The Rose of the Winds"), Sony International, 1996.
Greatest Hits, WEA International, 1996.
Tiempos, Sony Discos, 1999.
From Panama, Fania, 2000.
Sembra y Otros Favoritos Salsa Para Siempre, Musica Latina, 2001.
Salsa Caliente du Nu York, Import, 2002.
Mundo, Sony, 2002.
Recorded first album with Los Salvajes del Ritmo (meaning the Rhythm Savages), 1966; also has recorded with Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Sting.
Joseph and His Brothers, Rabbit Ears, 1993.
(With Leon Ichaso and Manuel Arce) Crossover Dreams, Miramax, 1985.
When Mountains Tremble, 1983.
(With others) Crossover Dreams, Miramax, 1985.
The Return of Ruben Blades (documentary), Mug Shot Productions, 1987.
Por los caminos verdes, 1987.
The Story of Fausta (also known as Out of My Way and Romance de Empregada), Barreto/Embrafilme, 1988.
Q & A, TriStar, 1990.
A Design for a Life (short), 2001.
Empire, Universal, 2002.
Vivir pedaleando (short), 2003.
The Last Fight, 1982.
Pedro Navaja, 1984.
El Hijo de Pedro Navaja, 1986.
(Theme song) Behind the Iran-Contra Affair, 1988.
Oliver and Company, 1988.
Chances Are, TriStar, 1989.
Do the Right Thing, 1989.
True Believer, Sony, 1989.
Gladiator, Sony, 1992.
Dance with Me, Sony, 1998.
(H) Historias cotidianas (documentary), 2001.
Empire, Universal, 2002.
Television Scores; Specials:
Gryphon, PBS, 1988.
The Balcony, American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA, 1986.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including La estrella de Panama, the New York Times, and the Village Voice.
Contemporary Hispanic Biography, Vol. 3, Gale Group, 2003.
Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 2, Gale, 1990.
Marton, Betty A., Ruben Blades, Chelsea House, 1991.
Back Stage, February 27, 1998, pp. 5-7.
Billboard, June 17, 2000, p. 68.
Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1985.
Harper's Bazaar, March, 1994, pp. 326-332.
Inter Press Service, May 26, 1998.
Interview, April, 1986, pp. 210-214.
Los Angeles Magazine, September, 1995, pp. 145-147.
Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1985.
Newsweek, September 9, 1985.
New York, August 19, 1985.
New York Times, August 18, 1985; June 21, 1987; March 17, 1994.
People Weekly, May 9, 1994, pp. 181-183.
Rolling Stone, April 23, 1987, pp. 36-40, 158.
Time, July 11, 1988; January 29, 1990, pp. 70-73.
Village Voice, March 5, 1985.
Washington Post, October 11, 1985.
"Blades, Ruben 1948–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben-1948-0
"Blades, Ruben 1948–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben-1948-0
Rubén Blades (rōōbān´ blä´ŧħās), 1948–, Panamanian singer, songwriter, band leader, and actor. He is a graduate (1972) of the Univ. of Panama law school and holds a masters degree (1985) in international law from Harvard. An internationally known performer of many musical forms, Blades is famous for his salsa music, often mingled with African, jazz, rock, and blues elements, and is noted for his performances with Willie Colón, notably Siembra (1978), and Ray Barretto. He often imbues his songs with sociopolitical awareness. His albums include Escenas (1985; Grammy Award), Aqua de Luna (1987), and Nothing but the Truth (1988). He made his acting debut in the early 1980s and has appeared in such movies as Crossover Dreams (1985), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), Mo' Better Blues (1990), Cradle Will Rock (1999), and All the Pretty Horses (2000) and in several television dramas. Blades ran for president of Panama in 1994 but came in third after leading briefly in early polls.
See biographies by B. A. Marton (1992) and B. C. Cruz (1997).
"Blades, Rubén." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blades-ruben
"Blades, Rubén." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blades-ruben
Ruben Blades is probably the best-selling performer of Latin salsa music in recent years. Though he most often sings in Spanish and is extremely popular with Latin Americans, he has gone beyond salsa’s usual, primarily Hispanic audience to reach listeners from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Critics, and Blades himself, attribute his enormous success to the quality of his lyrics. As Pete Hamill phrased it in New York magazine, “Blades does not write jingles for teenagers, or moony ballads of self-pity and abandonment; his songs are about people, one at a time, and their universal problems; they’re about exile, too, and brutality and the loss of political innocence; they’re about the struggle to be decent.”
At the same time, the stories Blades tells in his songs are backed with a salsa beat, designed for dancing. Blades feels that adding content to the salsa form answers a deep need in the Hispanic community. He explained to Hamill: “The radio and the songs were becoming companions of so many people. And sporadically, when a song would come on and speak, and talk about something more than mira-mira-let’s- dance-baby-let’s-dance, it struck a chord, a very sensitive spot in the audience.” With his songs, and with his straightforward, unflashy image, he wishes to fight stereotypes generally associated with Hispanic performers—not only among the English-speaking members of his audiences, but among Hispanics themselves.
Blades was born in Panama City, Panama, on July 16, 1948. His father was a police officer, his mother sang and acted in radio soap operas; but he was most deeply influenced by his paternal grandmother, Emma. “Emma was some woman,” Blades recounted for Hamill. “She had a character and a half…. She practiced yoga, she was a Rosicrucian, she was into spiritualism, she levitated, she was a vegetarian when nobody had even thought about it.” His grandmother used to take him to the theater to watch American films, and, he told Eric Levin of People, she “instilled in me the desire for justice and truth.”
During Blades’s childhood and adolescence, “justice and truth” seemed almost synonymous with things American. He remembers being captivated by early American rock and roll along with many of his friends. “We didn’t understand the words, but there was some kind of thing in there. Something we could intuitively associate—I guess—with what we were: kids,” he explained to Hamill. Then, as Hamill reported, “Blades and his friends began singing doo-wop together, searching out buildings in Panama City that had echoes under the stairs, school bathrooms, anyplace that might help them sound like the new songs they were
Full name, Ruben Blades, Jr.; born July 16, 1948, in Panama City, Panama (first came to the U.S. in 1969); son of Ruben (a police officer) and Anoland (a radio actress and singer/pianist) Blades; married, wife’s name, Lisa. Education: Law degree, University of Panama, 1974; Master of Law, Harvard University, 1985.
Performed in various Latin groups in New York City and Panama beginning in 1969; solo performer and recording artist, 1982—. Appeared in films, including Crossover Dreams, The Last Fight, and Waiting for Salazar. Wrote scores for films, including When the Mountains Tremble and Caminos Verde, and a play, The Balcony. Author of political columns for Panamanian newspapers.
Awards: Named Best Ethnic/International Act and Best Latin Act by the New York Post, 1986.
Addresses: Record company —Elektra, 962 N. La Ciénega, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.
hearing on the radio.” They sang in English, and Blades also sang in English when he joined his brother’s band in 1963. In this latter experience he sang Frank Sinatra standards like “Strangers in the Night.” But shortly afterwards Blades stopped singing in English, turning away from his interest in American music in shock and disgust, when Americans’ refusal to fly the Panamanian flag alongside their own over a Canal Zone high school (the law designated that both flags be flown) sparked a riot that killed twenty-one and wounded almost five hundred Panamanians. The incident affected him so profoundly, Blades believes, because, as he told Hamill, “until then the North Americans were always the good guys. We knew that from the movies, didn’t we? They were the guys we’d seen kicking the Nazis, beating the bad guys. And all of a sudden, you had them on the other side, and they were shooting at you! It was a big disappointment.” So he immersed himself in Latin music instead, listening to the creations of Joe Cuba, Ismael Rivera, and the Cortijo y Su Combo.
While Blades was serious about his musical ambitions, playing with various Latin bands during the late 1960s, he was also serious about his academic career. He entered the University of Panama to work on a law degree, and when offered a chance to replace one of the members of the Joe Cuba band, refused it to remain in school. Ironically, the following year the Panamanian military closed the university due to student unrest, and Blades went to New York City to work on his music. He cut an album with Pete Rodriguez, De Panama a Nueva York, for which he wrote all but one of the songs. Yet when the University of Panama was reopened, Blades returned to finish his degree.
Afterwards, Blades served for a short time as an attorney for the Bank of Panama and worked to rehabilitate prisoners, but in 1974 he returned to New York to further his musical career. Though he started off in the mail-room of New York’s Fania Records, a company that specializes in Latin-American music, he quickly graduated to singing salsa with the Ray Barretto band. Then, in 1976, Blades became a songwriter and vocalist for the Willie Colon Combo, with whom he began to record the thoughtful songs that have made him famous. Metiendo Mano, his first effort with the Combo, featured one of Blades’s most popular songs, “Pablo Pueblo,” which sympathetically portrays a tired working man. Siembra, released in 1977, was distinguished by “Pedro Navaja,” a Spanish adaptation of “Mack the Knife.” Blades stirred up controversy in 1980 with the song “Tiburón” (Spanish for “shark”), which depicted interventionists as endlessly hungry sharks. The song was banned by Miami’s most popular Latin-music radio station, and Blades was branded a Communist. He told Fred Bouchard in down beat, however, that the song was neutral: “My contra-intervention themes are not directed exclusively to the U.S. policy in Latin America, but include the Russians in Afghanistan and the British in Argentina.”
In 1982 Blades left the Colon Combo to strike out on his own with Maestra Vida, an album “obviously inspired,” according to Hamill, by the stories of Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. Soon afterwards, in an attempt to get his musical message to a wider audience, he signed with the mainstream record company Elektra. Blades’s first release for them was the immensely popular Buscando America, which not only drew rave reviews from critics but sold more than three hundred thousand copies—” remarkable for a Latin record,” testified Bill Barol in Newsweek. Buscando featured more of Blades’s story songs, particularly “El Padre Antonio y el Monanguillo Andres,” about an outspoken pacifist priest gunned down in his church with one of his altar boys, and “GDBD,” which describes a secret policeman who has been assigned to make political arrests preparing for his day’s work. In 1985 Blades released Escenas, which included a duet with popular singing star Linda Ronstadt, “Silencios.” Though Blades has been including printouts with English translations of his songs since Buscando, he did not record in English until his 1988 album Nothing But the Truth.
But Blades is not merely a singer-songwriter. He drew praise from film critics in 1985 for his starring performance in Crossover Dreams, an independent motion picture about a Latin singer whose attempts to go mainstream alienate his family and friends, leaving him nothing to return to when his efforts fail. He has also acted in the film Waiting for Salazar, and provided musical scores for the documentaries When the Mountains Tremble and Caminos Verdes. Blades’s goals are not limited to the entertainment fields, either. He writes political columns for a Panamanian newspaper and intends to return to Panama in the future and run for political office, perhaps even president. He took time off from the music business in 1985 to obtain a Master of Law degree from Harvard University, in part so that no one can say he is just an entertainer with no background for politics.
With the Willie Colon Combo; on Fania Records
Metiendo Mano (includes “Pablo Pueblo”), 1976.
Siembra (includes “Pedro Navaja”), 1977.
Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos, 1982.
Maestra Vida, Fania, c. 1982.
Buscando America (includes “El Padre Antonio y el Monanguillo Andres,” “Desapariciones,” “GDBD,” “Decisiones,” and “Todos Vuelven”), Elektra, 1984.
Escenas (includes “Silencios,” “La Sorpresa,” “Tierra Dura,” “Cuentas del Alma,” “Canción del Final del Mundo,” and “Muévete”), Elektra, 1985.
Nothing But the Truth, Elektra, 1988.
Also recorded, with Pete Rodriguez, De Panama a Nueva York, 1969.
down beat, January, 1986.
Newsweek, September 9, 1985.
New York, August 19, 1985.
People, August 13, 1984.
Time, July 11, 1988.
"Blades, Ruben." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben
"Blades, Ruben." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/blades-ruben