Willie Rosario
Willie Rosario

Fernando Luis Rosario Marin was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico on May 6, 1930 , studied guitar bass, and saxophone at the insistence of his mother. He moved with his family to New York when he was 16 years old, where he then studied journalism and public relations. There was a pivotal event in Rosario's musical career around that time: a Tito Puente performance at the famous Palladium in New York, where he was mesmerized by Puente's artistry and felt compelled to study percussion.

Rosario 's professional career in salsa music started with tres artist, Luis 'Lija' Ortiz, who recorded with Panchito Riset. Rosario went on to work with various bands, including Noro Morales before joining Johnny Segui's Conjunto in 1953. When Segui moved to Puerto Rico in 1958, Rosario set to work to organize his own band. He visited Tito Rodriguez who gave him helpful advice, as well as Tito Puente. They also provided Rosario with music charts. The band's first club date was at the Broadway Casino at 137th Street and Broadway.

Rosario signed with the created Alegre Records in 1962 and added vocalist Carlos Pizzaro's conga drummer Frankie Figueroa, who much later became the lead vocalist for Tito Puente's band. While with Alegre, Rosario appeared on two of the legendary 1960's descarga albums recorded by the Alegre All-Stars.

In 1968, while boogaloo was all the rage, Rosario signed with Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco to record boogaloo and guaguanco, which featured Adalberto Santiago on lead vocals. That year, Rosario released another boogaloo album, Two Too Much, despite his dislike for that music style. Rosarion added baritone saxophone to his four-trumpet front line for that album and has retained this combination until the present day.

At the suggestion of Bobby Valentin, Rosario signed with Fania Records subsidiary, Inca Records, in the hope of better promotion of his works. Airplay in Puerto Rico, of one of his songs, from the album E1 Bravo de Siempre in 1969, "La Cuesta de La Fama", gave the band much needed name recognition.

Rosario released his Mr. Ritmo album on the Inca Label in 1971, which included the hit song "Del Barrio Obrero a La Quince" (lyrics) and others, such as "Babarabatiri", "Lluvia", "Chango Ta Beni", "El Plantao" and "Laura". The album also included vocalists Gilberto Santa Rosa and Tony Vega; future stars in their own right.

In 1972, Rosario moved to Puerto Rico and a year later released Infinito with Junior Toledo replacing Rivera as lead vocalist. The album was also on the Inca label, and included a great jazz track, "Last Tango in Paris". Two years later, Rosario released Otra Vez, which was dedicated to Al Santiago. In 1977, Rosario's good friend, Bobby Valentín handled the production chores and contributed arrangements to his first album recorded in Puerto Rico: Gracias Mundo which saw the introduction of Bobby Concepción and Guillo Rivera as lead singers.

Rosario signed with TH Records and released seven albums on that label between 1978 and 1985. Toledo returned to replace Concepción on the 1978 release of From The Depth Of My Brain.

In 1980, Rosario celebrated the 20th anniversary of the formation of his band with the album El De A 20 De Willie, which was dedicated to Max Salazar, Latin music historian. On that album, the band's pianist, Javier Fernández, contributed arrangements but there were yet more changes in lead singers. Concepción returned and Tony Vega joined from Raphy Leavitt's band.

Gilberto Santa Rosa, formerly lead vocalist with Tommy Olivencia joined Vega and Concepción on The Portrait Of A Salsa Man, released in 1981. The album marked the debut of conga player and arranger, José Madera. Madera was the son of Puerto Rican tenor saxophonist José "Pin" Madera, who was a founding member of Machito's band. Madera was a member of Machito's band between 1969 and 1972, and had been an accompanist for Tito Puente since 1972.

Starting with Atizame El Fogón, released in 1981, José Febles became another of Rosario's regular arrangers. The album featured the hit title track, Atizame El Fogón, Gifted trumpeter, David "Piro' Rodríguez departed after the release of The Salsa Machine in 1983.

Rosario then signed with and recorded for Bobby Valentin's Bronco label. His first recording on that label was Nuevos Horizontes, which was followed by the release of Afincando/25 Aniversario in 1985. Both records featured notable arrangements by José Madera of compositions by Cuban composer Adalberto Alvarez. Trumpeter, arranger and composer Humberto Ramírez put in his first appearance with Rosario's band on Afincando/25 Aniversario and Rosario quickly promoted him to producer for the release of Nueva Cosecha in 1986.

There were yet more changes in the role of vocalist but Rosario continued his work, releasing A Man Of Music, The Salsa Legend and 1989's Unique/30th Anniversary over the next few years. The Unique album was Rosario's first attempt at the "salsa romantica" style but he felt unfortable with its softness, calling it "salsa monga (flaccid)", and much preferred the harder, driving style of salsa.

In 1991, Rosario won the Diplo Award from Puerto Rican music industry for Salsa Band Of The Year. Despite this, his next release was a tribute to the swinging mambo of the 1950's. ~ Music of Puerto Rico