Rubén Blades Biography

by Alison Weinstock

updated 3/20/2018
maestravida.comRubén Blades:
Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Lawyer, and Political Figure

Rubén Blades was born in a rooming house in a small Latin American country, but he refused to see limitations or barriers; his work has crossed geopolitical borders, cultures, and genres, and has made an impact throughout the world.
As a musician he has won 17 Grammys and Latin Grammys, including one in the World Music category and one in the Latin Grammy Cantautor category, and the 2017 Latin Grammy for Album of the Year. As an actor he has won a Cable ACE Award and received three Emmy, Independent Spirit, and ALMA nominations. ASCAP honored him with its Founders Award, and the Grammy Recording Academy with its Heroes Award. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation honored him with its arts award,  and the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors honored him with its Raúl Juliá HOLA Founders Award.
Blades has made landmark albums in classic Afro-Cuban salsa as well as Afro-Cuban music touched with rock, jazz, pan-Latin, and other influences from around the world. He has collaborated with rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, reggaeton, and salsa artists. He has composed hundreds of songs and dozens of hits known for their eloquent, politically-aware lyrics, colorful characters, and memorable melodies.
Beyond his artistic success, Blades has always had an eye for political activism. In 1994 he formed a political party, Movimiento Papa Egoró (“Mother Earth” in the indigenous Embera language), and ran for president of his native Panama.
He holds degrees in political science and law from the University of Panama and an LLM degree from Harvard Graduate Law School. He was named U.N. World Ambassador Against Racism in 2000.  In 2006 the president of Chile awarded him the Pablo Neruda Order of Cultural Merit, and in 2010 the president of Ecuador honored him with their Orden Nacional al Mérito Cultural. He has received Honorary Doctorate degrees from Berkeley University in California (Chicano Studies), Lehman College in the Bronx (Humanities) and the Berklee College of Music in Boston (Music).

The Loeb Music Library at Harvard University formed The Rubén Blades Archives in 2009 with the purpose of collecting his work and papers.

He is married to Broadway actress/singer Luba Mason and currently lives in NYC.  On 12/31/14 he publicly acknowledged (Spanish, English) that he has a son  born in 1975.
He believes that your actions should match your words, and that public service is a duty.

"Si piensas y haces lo que sientes, eres feliz".

foto by   Rafael Guillén
Panama 2011

Bio Summary:
English  Español

  RB baby
 Emma, Rubén, Anoland 1949

 RB padre  

Rubén Blades padre (complete photo)
Rubén Blades (pronounced 'Bleids' in Panama and by the family) was born on 16 July 1948, of grandparents born in Colombia, St. Lucia, Spain, and New Orleans, USA in the cultural crossroads nation of Panama.  From birth, Blades was exposed to music through both of his parents. His mother Anoland Bellido de Luna was born in Cuba and sang and played the piano. His father Rubén Blades Sr. was born in Colombia and played percussion. Radio, playing every kind of music, was a constant presence in their home.

His grandmother Emma Blades Bosques was also a powerful influence. She was a spiritualist, a Rosicrucian, a vegetarian, a painter, a poet, and a feminist. She taught him to read and exposed him to many ideas.

"My abuela Emma who was with me at all times, instilled me with a sense of justice, that we can all serve as part of the solution. That is the perspective from which I developed and the foundation to help me move forward."

His English-speaking grandfather Reuben Blades was born in St. Lucia, and came to work in Panama as an accountant during the building of the Panama Canal. On the Cuban side, Rubén descends from writers and revolutionaries who fought for independence from Spain.
In Panama, Blades grew up on U.S. culture and rock & roll. At age 9, he saw Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers in the film Rock, Rock, Rock and tried to write a letter asking to join the group. His mother didn’t mail the letter, but she did buy him a plastic guitar.

Then in 1964, civilians were killed and wounded by U.S. soldiers and Canal Zone police during riots that erupted when students tried to fly the flag of Panama next to that of the U.S. at Balboa High School. This event was traumatic for the nation and deeply affected the fifteen-year-old Blades.

"They turned friends into enemies. Even today [1984], that's the pity of U.S. policy in Latin America."

As a student at the University of Panama he composed, sang, and  recorded with various groups. including Los Salvajes del Ritmo and Bush y sus Magnificos. When the university closed due to riots in 1968, he traveled to New York City and contacted Pancho Cristal, Cheo Feliciano's producer. Cristal had heard Blades sing in Panama and put him together with “Boogaloo” Pete Rodríguez to make an album. From Panama to New York was released in 1970 but didn't attract much attention. Blades says that due to the Che Guevera-inspired song "Juan González", it was banned in 17 countries.

club windsor

padre 1985
 Rubén padre, 1985 - youtube video

Blades returned to his country to finish his law degree. Immediately after graduating he joined his family in Miami in 1974, who had been pressured to leave Panama for political reasons. He then traveled again to New York and took the only job available at Fania Records: in the mailroom.

"They wouldn't record me. I had to push a cart full of mail from 57th and Broadway to 52nd Street every day."

He seized the opportunities this contact gave him with the New York Latin music scene. Performers such as Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, Nestor Sanchez, Bobby Rodríguez, Tito Puente, Roberto Roena, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, and Ismael Miranda recorded his compositions.

His chance to sing came when Ray Barretto formed a new orchestra, and auditioned him in the mailroom. He was hired to share lead vocals with Tito Gomez, debuting at Madison Sq. Garden on July 26, 1974, and recording the Grammy-nominated album Barretto (1975) and  Tomorrow: Barretto Live (1976). He performed with Larry Harlow's Orquesta Harlow and sang on the Grammy-nominated La Raza Latina (1977). He provided many backup and guest vocals for other Fania recordings and the Fania All-Stars. A guest appearance on Willie Colón's The Good the Bad the Ugly (1975) brought him widespread recognition for his song "El Cazangero" (lyrics & translation).

Special article: The Collaboration of Willie Colón/Rubén Blades at Fania Records

This successful collaboration led to Blades joining forces with Willie Colón, replaceing Héctor Lavoe as singer, and bringing his own ideas and compositions with him. The Colón/Blades partnership would mark an important shift in salsa music.

"Ray was more interested in Afro-Cuban music and jazz. Willie was more interested with things that had to do with Latin America, and he allowed me to record my songs. It was a wonderful group of people, which I had the privilege to meet and work with."

                        WillieMetiendo Mano

Their album Siembra (1978) was an international smash hit, with songs and arrangements that spoke to both the head and the feet, and uplifting and compelling social messages and colorful stories. The song "Pedro Navaja" broke records and remains a beloved classic.

"All of a sudden you had a record that was confronting issues and that was unheard of at the time."

This ground-breaking album was followed by another, the two part Maestra Vida (1980), a musical drama using characters to explore social issues in a very personal way. Blades blended theatrical, literary, and political concepts with the music of the streets to tell his story of a family in the barrio. The work has been produced onstage in Panama and elsewhere in Latin America.
Crossover Dreams

In 1982, Blades was given the opportunity to pursue his interest in acting. Fania owner Jerry Massucci offered him a role in a low budget movie entitled The Last Fight, directed by Fred Williamson.

"I played a boxer who also sang, so we could sell a few records."

Although the film was not successful, it gave Blades his first experience in the film medium. The highly acclaimed independent film Crossover Dreams directed by Leon Ichaso followed in 1985, and his acting career was launched. He played a salsa musician trying to introduce himself into the American market, and he also co-wrote the screenplay. It was critically acclaimed and went into general release as a successful independent film.
"I can't say enough for the people of East Harlem. They brought us soup and let us film in their homes in exchange for our painting them. Everybody in the community cooperated. It was a Latin effort done by ourselves to help ourselves."

SDRB photo
As seen on SDRB: Seis del Solar July 16, 1984

At the same time, Blades had decided to form his own band and develop his own musical ideas. Discontented with Fania’s business practices, he signed with Elektra Records.

He formed the Joe Cuba-inspired sextet Seis del Solar, eliminating the traditional salsa brass section and experimenting with rock and jazz elements. When he recorded Buscando America (1984), rock and jazz journalists around the world took notice and began to write about him and his music.

"I wanted to make an urban American album that can be appreciated by any American city dweller and may bring people who haven't identified with salsa a bit closer to us."

After this success, he took a break to attend Harvard University School of Law, with the long-term goal of returning to Panama with the credentials to be taken seriously in politics. He earned a Master's Degree in International Law in 1985.

"I needed something to humble myself, and believe me, that school, which was no picnic, did it."

The documentary The Return of Ruben Blades captures his graduation, and his return to performing.

 Escenas (1985) brought him his first Grammy. His next experiment was Agua de Luna (1987), inspired by short stories of Colombian magical realist author Gabriel García Márquez, exploring literary concepts in songs. Working with rock pioneers Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and Sting, he recorded Nothing But the Truth (1988) where he joined his multi-cultural rhythms and political themes together with English lyrics.

"I want people to acknowledge the possibilities of a Latin artist fully - meaning we can do English, too."

The same year, he expressed devotion to his roots as Seis del Solar evolved into Son del Solar, bringing back the brass section for Antecedente (1988), which won him his second Grammy.

                        Beanfield War  
1988 also saw his first important Hollywood film role, in The Milagro Beanfield War directed by Robert Redford.

Dead Man OutIt was followed by a leading role in Dead Man Out (1989), where his portrayal of a killer on death row earned him the Cable ACE Best Actor Award.  [see trailer]
Other acting credits include: Crazy From the Heart, The Josephine Baker Story (1991), and The Maldonado Miracle (2003) all three earning him Emmy nominations; the Broadway musical The Capeman by Paul Simon (1998); and the TV series Gideon's Crossing (2000) and Fear the Walking Dead (2015-2016). 

[See imdb

It was during The Capeman that he met his current wife Luba Mason.
"I started acting by choice, however, when I get involved in something, I try to learn everything there is, and what I learned in Hollywood and television in this country is that you can't sit around and wait for the opportunities to come by."

Papa Egoro

True to his social activism, Rubén Blades returned to Panama to run for president in 1994, as the founder and head of the Papa Egoró Movement. He ran a grassroots campaign of ethics and equality between cultural and social groups across all economic classes. He came in third of seven candidates.

"In order to sustain the integrity of the work, I felt I had to go out there on the streets and try to make political change possible through the political process, not just singing. We proved it could work. We came in third out of 24 parties, with 18% of the vote. I'm a better, less selfish person for it."

Returning again to music, his restlessness led him to incorporate even broader influences, leading to a trilogy of Grammy winning recordings: La Rosa de los Vientos (1996), with Panamanian musicians and composers; Tiempos (1999) with the trio Editus, in which he incorporated elements of contemporary classical music and jazz;  and Mundo (2002), with an expanded Editus Ensemble, fusing Irish, Arabic and Afro-Cuban instruments and rhythms.

This eclectic album won a Grammy for Best World Music and a Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Tropical Album. Guest artists included bagpiper Eric Rigler, Brazilian vocal group Boca Livre, and Broadway singer and actress Luba Mason.

"Racism is absurd and my new record reflects that."

courtesy of Orosmén de la

Foto courtesy of Orosmán de la Guardia, ©2003

BerkleeAs guest artist on the Spanish Harlem Orchestra's second album Across 110th St. (2004) he received a seventh Grammy award.  His eighth was a Latin Grammy for the video of "La Perla" with Calle 13 (2008). His ninth was a Latin Grammy in the Cantautor category, for Cantares del Subdesarrollo (2009).

He was honored by the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with its Heroes Award in 2004, and ASCAP honored him with its Founders Award in 2005.

Berklee College of Music conferred on him an honorary doctorate in music in 2005.

In 2004 Blades went home to Panama for a five year term as Minister of Tourism, serving his country as he had long hoped to do.

"When I go back to Panama, I'm going to be very happy to be there because I really believe in my country and I know we're going to do good things there. It's not just a romantic dream; we can make things happen there."

sdrb12Living in Casco Viejo, a few blocks from Plaza Herrera in the San Felipe neighborhood where he was born and raised, he maintained contact with his fans through SDRB, the Show de Rubén Blades videos on his web site, featuring anecdotes, recommendations, and interviews with artists including Calle 13, Danilo Pérez, and Blades’s wife, singer and actress Luba Mason.

With his government service completed, 2009 and 2010 saw the long-awaited reunion of the original Seis del Solar in the “Todos Vuelven Tour”, enjoyed by a million people across the Americas. The recording of this concert brought him a Latin Grammy.

The succeeding years have seen more film work, portraying manager Carlos Eleta in the Roberto Duran biopic Hands of Stone. He has performed concerts with the Roberto Delgado Orchestra in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. His album Tangos won both a Latin Grammy and a Grammy, as did the album Son de Panamá with the Delgado Orchestra. The 2017 album Salsa Big Band won both the Latin Grammy Best Salsa and Album of the Year awards, plus the Grammy Best Tropical Latin Album.

 In another contrary move, he decided to "pirate the pirates" and put out his own versions of some existing bootlegged performances, calling it The Bootleg Series, on Subdesarrollo Records.

He took a break from touring to star in the television series Fear the Walking Dead during 2015-2017. In 2017 he announced that 2018 would see his last salsa tour, and declared the possibility of presenting once more as a candidate for President of Panama in 2019. In 2018 the documentary Yo No Me Llamo Rubén Blades (Rubén Blades Is Not My Name) by Abner Benaim was released. The film "takes us up close to one of Latin America's most beloved singer-songwriters, his music, and the stories behind them."
Updated NewsBlog    Bio Summaries: English - Español
Puerto Rico 12 Aug 2009

Todos Vuelven logo

2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the still revolutionary Buscando America.

rb at the
On 27 March 2010, Rubén was interviewed onstage at the Carmichael Auditorium at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., jointly sponsored by the American History Museum and the Smithsonian Latino Center.  (photos)

  En el Tribunal Federal de San Juan: Final Decisions ~ "Cada cual tendrá que bregar con el karma que crean sus acciones".
he wonMay 16, 2013: Final judgement against Morgalo in favor of Rubén Blades in his defamation suit [Document 364]
he won December 22 2010: granted legal costs of $9,819.81 to be paid by Willie Colon to Rubén Blades [Document 263]
he wonJune 15 2010: Partial final judgement in favor of Rubén Blades against Morgalo, Martinez & Associates, LLC
in the amount of $133,168.16, plus interest. [Document 228]

Blades en la conversación manifestó también su satisfacción porque la Universidad de Harvard le ha anunciado que colocará toda su historia y producción en la Biblioteca de la institución.
“Han hecho un llamado internacional para que envíen todo tipo de material, artículos, libros, ensayos de universidades, tesis;  va a ser interesante para mí entender cómo la gente ha percibido el trabajo mío”, dijo el creador de Plástico. Directory of Pages

Copyright © 2008-2018 Alison Weinstock and  All rights reserved.