b. 17 September 1948, Puerta De Tierra, San Juan, Puerto Rico. All rounder salsa band leader, pianist, arranger, composer, producer Raphy Leavitt formed his first band, called Los Señoriales, when he was in his early teens. In 1966, he organized another group, named La Banda Latina. At this stage of his career, Raphy only performed cover versions of hits by other bands. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, where he studied commercial administration, he worked as a teacher/lecturer of commerce at the San Agustin College in Puerta De Tierra, which was the same educational institution from which he received his own elementary, intermediate and secondary education. In 1971, the prolific Raphy formed La Selecta, an orquesta with a line-up of trombones and trumpets, rhythm section (conga, bongo, timbales, cowbell, güiro, bass, piano) and voices (lead and chorus). They signed a contract with Borinquen Records and released 10 albums (including a compilation) on the label between 1971 and 1979. His first composition, a bolero montuno called ‘Payaso’ (clown), was a bestseller. The single, and La Selecta’s self-titled debut album, both went gold. The following year, the band had a huge international hit with ‘Jibaro Soy’. Leavitt and the band was involved in a motor vehicle accident on the Connecticut Turnpike in the USA. Trumpeter Luisito Maisonet was killed and Leavitt nearly died from a cerebral contusion. He had to spend six months recovering in hospital and three other band members were also hospitalized.
Leavitt composed ‘La Cuna Blanca’ as a posthumous tribute to the memory of Maisonet and the song topped the charts in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panamá, Venezuela, Colombia and the Latin charts in the USA. This composition caused Leavitt to receive his second gold disc for the sales of Jibaro Soy. He was awarded the prize of Composer Of The Year for ‘Jibaro Soy’ and ‘La Cuna Blanca’, and received the Golden Bust Of Rafael Hernández. Hernández (b. 1891, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, d. 11 December 1965) is regarded as one of Puerto Rico’s greatest composers. La Selecta made their first public appearance after the accident at New York’s Madison Square Garden. At the end of the concert they were awarded the Bronze Plaque Of Madison Square Garden. In 1976, the single ‘El Buen Pastor’ from De Frente A La Vida... Facing Life, was another international hit and went gold. On Raphy Leavitt La Selecta Orchestra in 1978, Sammy Marrero, lead singer with La Selecta since their formation, was joined by Tony Vega, who sang lead vocals on half the tracks. Vega left to join Willie Rosario’s band before Leavitt’s next album. Raphy signed to TH (Top Hits) Records and released three albums on the label between 1981 and 1983. Carlitos Ramírez joined La Selecta as co-lead singer on their 10th anniversary album. Leavitt and the band switched to Bobby Valentín’s Bronco Records for two albums. In 1986, he hired talented Puerto Rican arranger/pianist Isidro Infante to write half the tracks on their Bronco debut, Somos El Son. In 1987, La Selecta received the Puerto Rican music industries Diplo award for Band Of The Year. Young, subtle-voiced Osvaldo Díaz (b. Arecibo, Puerto Rico) joined Marrero and Ramírez to form a trio of lead vocalists on Se Solicita Un Cariño in 1988. Infante wrote all the arrangements for the album.
Leavitt commenced the 90s with the launch of his own RL Records label. The first release was his own Provócame!, which charted in the Billboard tropical/salsa list. The salsa romántica single of the same title, sung by Díaz, was a Top 5 hit in Puerto Rico. Infante arranged ‘Provócame’ and six other tracks on the album.