Salsa bandleader, pianist, composer, arranger, and producer, Raphy Leavitt was born September 17, 1948, in the Puerta De Tierra section of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Born into a middle class family, Leavitt's mother died when he was only three years old. Ten years later, he was left an orphan on the death of his father. However, Leavitt showed a great interest in music at an early age and began playing the accordian.
In his early teens he formed his first music band and in 1966 another, called La Banda Latina, playing works composed by others. However, after graduation from the University of Puerto Rico, he formed another band called La Selecta, in 1971. The latest band, consisting of trombones and trumpets, bass, piano, voices, and rhythm section with conga, bongo, timbales, cowbell and güiro, would perform Leavitt's own compositions.
The group signed with Borinquen Records and released 10 albums over the course of the next eight years.
His first composition was the hit song "Payaso", which went gold. It was a bolero montuno in which Leavitt utilized "soneos", or improvisations in the form of decimas, as is typically done in Puerto Rican folk music. Leavitt and La Selecta followed with hit songs "Te equivocaste" and "Lamento rumbero", quickly coming into the salsa spotlight. The group's debut album La Selecta also went gold and the following year, Leavitt and La Selecta released the highly successful international hit Jibaro Soy.
The success of the song afforded Leavitt and the band the opportunity to make a concert tour in the United States. Tragically, the band was involved in an automobile accident on a highway in Connecticut (USA) that killed Luisito Maisonet (trumpet) and nearly killed Leavitt. Three other band members were also hospitalized. After six months in a hospital, Leavitt had recovered and was released.
His second gold hit song was "La Cuna Blanca" which Leavitt composed in the hospital in memory of Maisonet. The song led the charts in Puerto Rico, several countries throught Latin America, and Billboard's Latin chart. The song also helped Leavitt earn the Rafael Hernández award for "Composer Of The Year".
Leavitt's next hit was the song "El Buen Pastor" from the 1976 album De Frente A La Vida. This too was an international success and sold gold. Two years later, Tony Vega joined the band and sang lead along with regular lead singer, Sammy Marrero, on many songs in their next album, Raphy Leavitt La Selecta Orchestra in 1978. Vega subsequently left to join Willie Rosario.
Leavitt then changed recording companies; switching to TH Records, with which he released three albums between 1981 and 1983. During that time, Carlitos Ramírez joined the band co-lead singer for their 10th anniversary album.
Leavitt decided to switch recording companies yet again, this time going with Bronco Records, headed by Bobby ValentÃn. Leavitt recorded two albums on the Bronco label. For the first of those, Leavitt brought on the highly talented arranger and pianist, Isidoro Infante, who wrote many of the songs included in that album: Somos El Son. The next year, Leavitt and La Selecta won the Puerto Rican music industry's Diplo award for best band of the year. ~ Music of Puerto Rico