Wilfrido Vargas (b. Wilfrido Radamés Vargas Martínez, April 24, 1949, Altamira, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic), was a bandleader, trumpeter, vocalist, arranger, composer and producer who was instrumental in making the merengue style a worldwide phenomena. He began his musical studies early, attending the Municipal Academy of Music beginning at age 10. Before he was 12, he was the trumpet soloist and director of a small local band. It was in his twenties, however, that he begun to have commercial and critical successes. His band, Los Beduinos, produced their first album, Wilfrido Vargas y sus Beduinos, on the Karen label in 1974. It was the first of 17 albums that Vargas would record with Karen, all the while acting as mentor to a new generation of merengue musicians. Half of that first album was written by pianist and composer Sonny Ovalle, who helped develop Los Beduinos' sound and who would later make a major contribution to Vargas' hit albums in the '80s.
Vargas' first hit came with his fourth album, Punto y Aparte!, which was issued by Karen in 1978. It produced a hit single, "El Barbarazoí," and helped touch off a worldwide merengue craze, providing exposure for scores of Dominican artists. Vargas had a series of hit albums in the '80s, beginning with his duet with Los Beduinos vocalist Sandy Reyes, Wilfrido Vargas y Sandy Reyes, which was issued in 1982. In 1987 he switched to the Sonotone label and produced five albums with them, including Animation, which received a 1989 Grammy nomination. From 1991 on he was with the Rodven label, and while he remained a major name in merengue, he would never again achieve the prominence that he had known in the '80s. Outside of the merengue genre, Vargas also made a major contribution to the Fania All-Stars, joining them for their historic performances in Cuba in 1979 and contributing to the recording of the All Stars' Habana Jam album, recorded March 3 of that year at a concert in Havana. ~ Stacia Proefrock