Dunbar, Huey: 1974—: Singer
Huey Dunbar: 1974—: Singer
Hailed by many critics as the future of salsa music, Huey Dunbar helped to revitalize the genre and introduce it to a new generation during his stint as the lead singer of Dark Latin Groove (DLG). The group's three albums gained DLG a large following not only among salsa music fans but listeners across the musical spectrum as well. After winning two Billboard Latin Music Awards, DLG amicably split up in 2000 and Dunbar began a promising solo career. His first album, Yo Si Me Enamore, was released in 2001 and earned a gold record for selling over a half-million copies. With an English-language album in the works in 2003, Dunbar looked forward to branching out into new musical styles. As he told an interviewer with the Salsa Wild website, "I always planned on going in different directions. I always think it's necessary for me to not stay on doing the same thing over because I don't want to get pigeonholed. I don't want anyone to think that Huey's only good for one kind of music."
Huey Dunbar was born on May 15, 1974, and grew up in New York City, although he also spent time in Puerto Rico. His mother, an immigrant from Puerto Rico, was an aspiring opera singer who passed on her love of music to her son. His father, a native of Jamaica who enjoyed playing the conga drums, died during Dunbar's youth. Dunbar's unlikely introduction to a career in music occurred while he was a student at Bayside High School in the borough of Queens in New York City. After seeing a flyer posted for a talent contest, Dunbar decided to enter by singing the song "Lately," a hit by the R & B group Jodeci. Dunbar's rendition of the song impressed one of the judges, Latin music producer Sergio George. When George asked Dunbar whether he sang in Spanish, however, Dunbar encountered his first setback. Not having spoken much Spanish while he was growing up, Dunbar decided to throw himself into learning the language so that he could pursue his contact with George. He also began a lengthy romantic relationship with a high-school classmate that produced two children before the couple broke up several years later.
Entered Salsa Scene With DLG
The connection with George proved to be a vital stepping stone in the young singer's career. Like Dunbar, George was a New York City native who had an all-encompassing love of music, especially salsa. In the early 1990s George began producing records for the leading salsa label in North America, RMM Records, in New York City. Adding contemporary urban sounds to traditional Latin salsa to produce a hybrid genre, George's productions appealed to younger Hispanic listeners who had previously turned away from Latin music in favor of rap and hip-hop. By the time he formed Sir George Productions in 1995, George was the undisputed leader of the Latin music scene in New York City. With George's help, Dunbar began appearing as a backup vocalist on tracks by Latin music stars India, Yolandita Monge, and Victor Manuelle in 1994 and 1995.
At a Glance . . .
Born on May 15, 1974, in New York, NY; two children.
Career: Singer, 1995–.
Awards: Billboard Latin Music Award, Album of the Year, Tropical/Salsa Group, Swing On, 1998; Billboard Latin Music Award, Album of the Year, Tropical/Salsa Group, Gotcha, 2000.
Addresses: Record company— Sony Discos, 605 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, FL, 33139; Phone: (305) 695-3494; Record company website— www.sonydis cos.com. Official artist website— www.hueyonline. com.
As one of the first acts signed to his management company, George put together Dark Latin Groove (DLG), which immediately signed a recording contract with the Sony Discos label. DLG embodied George's vision of a Latin music act that incorporated the sounds of traditional salsa, contemporary hip-hop and rap, and classicR&B. Dunbar, its lead singer, had a sweet and soulful voice that immediately drew comparisons to Michael Jackson. James (Da Barba) de Jesus, the group's resident expert in rap and reggae, had grown up in Spanish Harlem in New York City but added elements of Jamaican dance hall "toasting," or rap-ping, to DLG's tracks. Rounding out the trio, Wilfredo (Frangancia) Crispin was also an experienced reggae-style rapper and energetic live performer. "DLG's music is about inclusion," Dunbar said of the group's philosophy in a Musica Virtual website profile, "It's like an open door, not being closed to the daily influences of multiple styles of music."
DLG's first album, Dark Latin Groove, was released in early 1996 and became an immediate critical and commercial success. In a New York Times review, Peter Watrous called the release "the most radical salsa album made in the last decade," adding that "Dark Latin Groove is completely aware of tradition and hell-bent on modernizing it." The album entered the top forty on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart and the top ten on the magazine's Tropical/Salsa albums list. Capping off the successful debut, the group earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Tropical Latin performance and a nomination as Best New Tropical and Salsa Artist for the Premio Lo Nuestro award. With international tours throughout Latin America, DLG's popularity indeed spread far beyond the United States.
DLG's sophomore release, Swing On, was released in 1997 to even greater commercial and critical acclaim. The album peaked at number two on Billboard's Tropical/Salsa chart and number fourteen on its Top Latin Albums chart. Regarded as the group's best album, it made DLG's members into Latin music superstars or, as The Rough Guide's World Music volume called them, "the three coolest dudes in Latin New York." It also won DLG the Billboard Latin Music Award for Album of the Year by a tropical or salsa group. The group repeated that feat with its third release, Gotcha, which was released in 1999 and quickly entered the top ten on the Billboard top Latin Albums chart. The album also earned DLG another Grammy Award nomination for Best Tropical Latin performance.
Launched Solo Career
By the time DLG earned its second Billboard Latin Music Award, the group had already disbanded so that Dunbar could pursue a solo career. The split was amicable and Dunbar immediately went back into the studio with George, who was producing his debut solo effort. The result, Yo Si Me Enamore, took nine months to make, in part because Dunbar was intent on forging ahead with new sounds, just as he had with DLG. "The reason why I left DLG and broke up the group is because I couldn't grow anymore within the confines of that style and I was desiring to do more things," he explained in an interview with the Salsa Wild website. The album reflected this outlook, with a Billboard review noting of its eclectic style, "Dunbar sings ballads, salsa, and even pop in what's probably a ploy to straddle all radio formats. In the end, the results are good enough to work." Dunbar also transformed his image for his solo debut, going from his formerly multicolored hair styles and streetwise attire—which earned him comparisons to Dennis Rodman—to a much more sophisticated and suave look for his new album's cover.
Released in 2001, Yo Si Me Enamore hit number one on Billboard's Tropical/Salsa chart and earned a gold record for Dunbar by selling over a half-million copies. Dunbar also had the biggest hit single of his career to date, with the ballad "Con Cada Beso" hitting the top five on the Hot Latin Tracks chart in Billboard. Following on the heels of Yo Se Me Enamore, Dunbar announced plans for an English-language album. He hoped that the release would broaden the fan base of Latin music beyond its traditional confines of Spanish-language listeners. As he explained in an interview with the Salsa Wild website, "The next step is to take it to the next level and take it to the rest of the world. Take our music to the rest of the people in a way that they can understand it and appreciate it even more.… It's not the American public's responsibility to learn Spanish to listen to my music. It's my job to go out there and offer my perspective of Latin music to the American markets and that's what I want to do."
(with DLG) Dark Latin Groove, 1996.
(with DLG) Swing On, 1997.
(with DLG) Gotcha, 1999.
(with DLG) Greatest Hits, 2000.
(solo) Yo Si Me Enamore, 2001.
Broughton, Simon, and Mark Ellingham, eds., World Music: The Rough Guide Volume 2, Rough Guides, 2000.
Billboard, September 27, 1997, p. 8; November 1, 1997, p. 1; April 29, 2000, p. LM-8; March 10, 2001, p. 32.
Latinia, August 2000, p. 78.
New York Times, May 28, 1996, p. C11; February 8. 1998, p. E1.
"DLG," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (March 29, 2003).
"DLG: 'Gotcha'," MusicaVirtual, www.musicavirtual. com/dlg.html (April 2, 2003).
"Huey Dunbar," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (March 29, 2003).
"Huey Dunbar," Recording Industry Association of America, www.riaa.com (April 1, 2003).
"Huey Dunbar," Sony Discos, http://www.sonydiscos.com/discos/content.nsf/bio/20010314045826_79?Open&language=english (March 29, 2003).
"Huey Dunbar, Un innovador de la Salsa," America Salsa, www.americasalsa.com/entrevistamx/huey_ dunbar.html (April 1, 2003).
"Interview: Huey Dunbar," Salsawild, www.salsawild. com/salseros-report/interviews/huey-interview.htm (April 2, 2003).
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