- Celia Cruz
- Rubén Blades
- Buena Vista Social Club
- Ibrahim Ferrer
- Benny Moré
- Los Van Van
- Compay Segundo
- Sierra Maestra
- Tito Puente
- Juan Luis Guerra
Rubén Blades is one of the most successful vocalists in the history of Panamanian music. When starting out, he was a member of the bands led by Ray Baretto and Willie Colón, and since then has continued influencing salsa music with his words of high literary quality and political content, and his modern mentality arrangements that replaced the typical wind and Latin percussion sections with synthesizers and drums.
Often labeled the "Latin Bruce Springsteen", Blades gave the Central American middle class a voice. Having grown up in a middle class neighborhood in the city of Panama, Blades inherited his talent for music from his parents. His mother, Anoland, who emigrated from Cuba, played the piano and sang in Spain. His father, Rubén Sr., a police detective, played the bongó. Inspired by the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ doo-woop song, Blades began singing North American rock and pop songs in his pre-teenage years.
In 1963 he was lead voice in a band called the Saints, formed by his older brother Luis. The political conflicts in Panama in the mid 60’s had a profound effect on Blades as he became more and more committed to his own roots, giving up singing in any language other than his native language, Spanish.
While he studied law in the University of Panama, Blades continued getting involved in his music, playing with Conjunto Latino y Los Salvajes del Ritmo. In 1968 the album he recorded with Bush y los Magnificos reached the ears of Joe Cuba’s producer in New York. He was invited to join Cuba’s band, but rejected the invitation in order to finish university.
When the Panamanian government closed the University one year later, he made his first trip to the U.S. Once there, Blades recorded an album "De Panamá a Nueva York" (From Panama To New York), with Pete Rodríguez. Soon after the release of the record, the University of Panama was reopened and Blades returned to complete his studies. Although he accepted a position as a lawyer for the Banco de Panamá (Bank of Panama), after his graduation he returned to the States to visit his parents who had immigrated to Miami in 1974.
In the U.S., Blades traveled to New York and accepted a job with a record label that focused on Latin music, Fania. One year later he replaced Tito Allen as vocalist in Ray Barreto’s band. When Barretto left the band to form a Latin fusion group, Blades became band leader and christened it "Guarare".
In 1975, Blades composed and sang in the Barreto recording "Canto Abacua". As a result of this, Blades was named composer of the year by the "Latin New York" magazine. Blades had also been playing in Willie Colón’s band and stayed on with him for six more years. His contribution reached the sky with the album that sold three million copies, "Siembra", which included "Pedro Navaja", the single with the highest sales in the history of salsa.
In 1980, his song "Tiburón" (Shark), which spoke out against North American intervention in the Caribbean, was taken off the air in Miami. In 1982, Blades form his new band, Seis del Solar, an exciting fusion of Latin music, rock, reggae and Caribbean sounds. His album debut, "Buscando América" (Searching for America) was released in 1983. A year later, Blades signed up at Harvard, to get a masters degree in international law.
Since the early 80’s, Blades has balanced his musical career between composition and playing for movies soundtracks such as "The Last Fight", "Crossover Dreams", "Critical Condition", "Dead Man Out", "Disorganized Crime", "The Lemon Sisters", "The Two Jakes", "Predator 2", "Un hombre en guerra!, "Josephine Baker", "A Million to Juan", "Scorpion Spring and The Devil's Own". Blades shared the lead rol in Paul Simon’s Broadway musical, "The Capeman", with Marc Anthony.
Blades, who lives in California with his wife, the actress Lisa Lebenzon, is still politically active. He founded a new political party in Panama, stood for the presidential elections in 1994 and came second. While most of Blade’s repertoire is in Spanish, in 1988 he recorded an album in English, "Nothing but the Truth", with songs by Lou Reed, Elvis Costello and Sting.