Salsa legend Marvin Santiago was born December 26, 1947, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Marvin was born into a musically active family. His brother (Billivan Santiago) became a successful plena vocalist, and he was groomed from a young age to be a bolero singer. Preferring the rhythmically exciting salsa style, Marvin aspired to sing with the popular dance bands of the day, eventually landing a gig with one of Puerto Rico's most famous bandleaders, Rafael Cortijo. In 1971 Santiago joined up with another struggling vocalist, Bobby Valentín, to form a duo that would quickly become a national sensation. The duo's debut, Rompecabezas, was followed by a record that would become a salsa classic, Soy Boricua. The album's title cut became an anthem of Puerto Rican pride in a decade that saw many boricuas moving to the United States, seeking alternatives to economic hardship.
Valentín and Santiago rose in popularity, and were soon honored with an invitation to join the star-studded Fania All-Stars, alongside salsa royalty like Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, and Andy Montañez, to name a few. In 1977, like many Fania All-Stars veterans, Santiago went solo. Through his solo repertoire he earned a reputation as a master improviser. His use of common Puerto Rican slang saw him dubbed "El Sonero del Pueblo." His lyrics were a portrait of the gritty side of urban Latino life, including numerous references to sex and drug use. Santiago's upward trajectory was interrupted by a conviction for cocaine possession, landing him in a Puerto Rican prison for a five-year stint. During his years as a prisoner, Santiago embraced Christianity, and even recorded an album during his sentence, entitled Desde Adentro (From Inside).
After his release, Santiago moved toward a "romantic salsa" repertoire alongside artists like Montañez and Gilberto Santa Rosa, which kept him busy if not popular throughout the '80s and '90s. Marvin Santiago remained active (even working on a Celia Cruz tribute with former Fania labelmates) right up until his death in 2004. Marvin Santiago died October 6, 2004, due to complications of diabetes, a condition from which he had suffered since childhood. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez