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John Child offers this discographic profile of Marvin Santiago in tribute to the Sonero of the People who passed away on October 6, 2004, after many years of ill health.

by John Child (


Marvin Santiago (b 26 Dec. '47, Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico; d 6 Oct. '04, San Pablo Hospital, Bayamón, P.R.) A street-oriented sonero whose affection from grassroots Latinos earned him the epithet "El Sonero del Pueblo" (The Sonero of the People). He later changed his title to "El Sonero D'Cristo" (The Sonero of Christ) following his vehement adoption of Christianity. Regarded as a son of the school of the grand soneros Ismael Rivera, Tito Rodríguez, Cheo Feliciano and Héctor Lavoe, he possessed a distinctive fiery style, punctuating his vocals with catchphrases like "O-fi-cial" and "Linda melodia". He is idolised in Colombia and Panamá.

He sang rancheras and boleros as a child and in 1966 he began singing with the group Los Trotamundos. The following year the legendary composer Catalino "Tite" Curet Alonso (1926-2003) helped Marvin get an audition with Rafael Cortijo (1928-1982). He was successful and stayed with Cortijo's group El Bonche for three years, making his recording debut on Ahí Na Má / Put It There! '68 on Tico, singing "Vasos En Colores" and "La Campana Del Lechón" (composed by Tite Curet Alonso). During a visit to Chicago with Cortijo, Marvin decided to remain and sing with the sextet of Gilberto Rivera. After returning to Puerto Rico he worked with the orchestras of Lito Peña (La Panamericana), Johnny "El Bravo" López and Roberto Angleró, with whom he recorded the hit "Chán Con Chán" (included in Roberto Angleró Y Su Combo '70 on Gema).

In 1971 he was recruited to the orchestra of Bobby Valentín, with whom he made four albums for Fania: Rompecabezas '71 (including the hit "Papel De Payaso"), Soy Boricua '72 (containing the enduring anthem "Soy Boricua" written by Roberto Angleró and the hit "Pirata De La Mar" penned by Curet Alonso), Rey Del Bajo '74 (featuring the hit "Hay Craneo," a reworking of the Tito Rodríguez standard) and In Motion '74 (including the hit "Bella Mujer" based on the Ismael Rivera / Cortijo version from Cortijo En New York '59 on Gema). When Bobby formed his own Bronco label in P.R., Marvin sang on the inaugural releases, two volumes of Va A La Cárcel, Vol. 1 '75 (Vol. 2), recorded at the State Penitentiary of P.R., performing the hit "Préstame Tu Caballo" on Vol. 1. He departed after Bobby's next Bronco release, Afuera '76, on which he sang the classic "El Jíbaro De La Naturaleza" composed by Eladio Jiménez. In 1980 a selection of tracks from these albums with Santiago on lead vocals were collected on Marvin Santiago & Bobby Valentín '80 on Fania.

He performed on the eponymous debut album on the PRAS label by the Puerto Rico All-Stars in 1976 (reissued on Combo) singing "Los Tambores," co-written and arranged by the esteemed pianist Jorge Millet (deceased), another graduate of Cortijo y su Bonche.

In 1977 he made his solo debut on TH (subsequently TH-Rodven from 1987 to 1993) with De Los Soneros produced by Wito Morales and Tito Valentín and featuring the hit "Al Revˇs." During 1978 he worked briefly with Revolución '70. Tommy Olivencia hired him to sing with his orchestra, and his versions of the Olivencia numbers "Que Dichoso Es," "La Pela" and "Del Montón" were later compiled on 15 Exitos De Marvin Santiago '84 on TH ("La Pela" was also collected on Marvin Santiago, Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos '94 on Rodven / Universal). The originals of "La Pela" and "Del Montón," sung by Simón Pérez, and "Que Dichoso Es," sung by Paquito Guzmán and Simón Pérez, appear on Olivencia's Sweet Trumpet Hot Salsa" '78 on TH.

In 1979 Jorge Millet gave Marvin another opportunity to record as a solo artist when he arranged and produced the magnificent Fuego A La Jicotea '79 on TH. This spawned several hits, including Marvin's trademark "Fuego a la Jicotea" (composed by Rosendo Ruiz), "El Mangonero" (written by Julio Castro) and a spectacular remake of "Vasos En Colores" with a glorious piano solo by Millet. Millet co-produced the follow-up Caliente Y Explosivo! '80 on TH. This contained the hits "Al Son De La Lata Baila El Chorizo" (penned by Cortijo), "La Buruquena De Doña Inés" (written by Marvin) and "Tiburón De Agua Dulce," featuring another fine solo by its composer Millet.

Marvin started using drugs in 1969 and became an addict. In September 1980 he was imprisoned in Bayamón Regional Prison in Puerto Rico for drugs trafficking; and though originally sentenced for 10 years, he concluded his punishment in 1987. In 1981 the live album Adentro (Inside) on TH was recorded there, featuring the hits "La Libertad" and "Nostalgia," both arranged by Louis García, and another of his trademark tunes, "Auditorio Azul," arranged by Ray Santos. The liner notes to Adentro highlighted Marvin's espousal of Christianity. In 1981 he contributed "Estaca De Guayacán" (arranged by Santos) to Primer Concierto De La Familia TH on TH. This track was also recorded at the Bayamón Regional Prison and is compiled on Oro Salsero: 20 Exitos.

In 1982 he issued El Hijo Del Pueblo on TH featuring a remake of Tite Curet Alonso's "La Campana Del Lechón" (arranged by García) and the hit "Me Está Que Se Hace" (arranged by Santos), also written by Curet Alonso. His series of solo albums with TH / TH-Rodven continued with El Sonero Del Pueblo '85 (including "El Pasajero"), Oficial! Y Ahora…Con Tremenda Pinta! '86 (with Curet Alonso's "Como Un Cañon"), Bregando Con Lo Mejor '88 (containing "Cúbreme") and El Filo Del Pantalón '90 (including "Cinco Hijos").

In January 1991 he participated in Don Perignon's La Puertorriqueña project with singers Primi Cruz and Tito Allen. He rerecorded the hits "Pirata De La Mar," "Papel De Payaso" and "Soy Boricua" for Bobby Valentín's 25 Aniversario Del Rey Del Bajo on Bronco released in January 1991 and on September 9th that year he was one of the invited stars performing at Bobby's 25th anniversary concert at the Centro de Bellas Artes, San Juan, P. R. (this was reissued in the 2-DVD set En Vivo Desde Bellas Artes in 2004). The following year he reunited with Bobby for Donde Lo Dejamas on Bronco with the numbers "El Barrendero" and "Me Voy Pa'l Campo A Vivir" (composed by Angleró). In 1996 he issued his final solo album, Oficial on Parcha, featuring Max Torres singing chorus vocals and lead on one track. The album generated the hit "Epílogo = Toño Bicicleta." The same year his right leg was amputated as a consequence of his chronic diabetic condition.

In August 2000 he participated in Tommy Olivencia's 40th anniversary celebration as a bandleader at the Anfiteatro Tito Puente, Hato Rey, San Juan, P.R., issued the following year as the 2-CD set 40 Aniversario on AJ Records in which Marvin reprises "Del Montón." On February 27th 2002 he helped celebrate another anniversary when he performed on the superlative 35 Anniversario En Vivo: Vuelve A La Cárcel (issued as a 2-CD audio release in 2002 and on DVD in 2003), a recording of Bobby Valentín's return to the State Penitentiary of P.R. where 27 years earlier he had made the classics Va A La Cárcel Vols. 1 and 2. On Vuelve A La Cárcel he performs "No Quiero Morirme Todavia" (originally sung by Johnny Vázquez on Bobby Valentín [aka El Gato] '80) and "Por El Ojo De La Cerradura."

Marvin's health continued to worsen, including the deterioration of his eyesight. On March 12th 2004 the Puerto Rican Masters under the direction of trumpeter Luis "Perico" Ortiz staged the concert Tributo El Sonero Del Pueblo at the Anfiteatro Tito Puente featuring the vocalists Luisito Carrion, Andy Montañez, Wichie Camacho, Henry Santiago, Domingo Quiñones and Oscar D'Leon. On May 15th 2004 he appeared at Tommy Olivencia's 45th anniversary concert at the Coliseo Rubén Rodríguez in Bayamón. September 2004 saw the release of the swinging Las Estrellas Del Pueblo on Roosevelt Records by Jazz Hamilton Y Las Estrellas Del Pueblo with Marvin and veterans Adalberto Santiago, Luigi Texidor and Chamico Rivera providing the vocals. He sings lead on "Marvin's Medley" and two versions of the Cortijo classic "Pa' Los Caserios" (written by Curet Alonso) and as a part of the ensemble of vocalists on "Estrellas Las Del Pueblo" and "El Que Sabe."

Marvin died of a heart attack on October 6th 2004 in San Pablo Hospital in Bayamón.

© and John Child, producer and co-host of the the totallyradio show Aracataca , contributor to the Latin music website and MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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