) is a Puerto Rican composer
and founder of the salsa orchestra
Leavitt born in San Juan, Puerto Rico
was the second of four siblings in his family. He and his brothers became orphans at an early age and were raised by their aunt in the Puerta de Tierra section of San Juan. Puerta de Tierra is one of Puerto Rico's toughest neighborhoods. Leavitt was able to attend a private school, Colegio San Agustin, where he received his primary and secondary education.
During his childhood, he was also able to take classes at The Academy of Accordions. He participated in an accordion orchestra and was named "premier" accordanist. Leavitt enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico to study Business Administration. It was during this period of his life that he debuted as a professional musician when he joined the "Combo Los Reyes". After four years in the university, Leavitt earned his Bachelors Degree in Business Administration and graduated with high honors.
In 1966, Leavitt organized an orchestra which he named "Los Señoriales". This was the first time that he assumed the role of orchestra director. Later on, he renamed the orchestra "La Banda Latina" (Latin Band).
In 1970, Leavitt organized an orchestra which was to have a different sound and style. He wanted to select the band's repertoire from songs with a particular, positive social message and philosophy, and arranged his new band's sound as to sound as raw and powerful as the typical all-trombone salsa sound in vogue at the time (made popular by Willie Colón), but with the addition of trumpets to lighten up the sound melodically. He composed some of the songs of this new group, which he named "La Selecta". Ever since its beginning, La Selecta has featured Coamo born Sammy Marrero, considered by many as a gentlemanly character in salsa, as one of its singers. Marrero, who has always been strongly influenced by jibaro music, had a chance to show his dramatic singing style in early hits such as the anthemic Jíbaro Soy, a patriotic Puerto Rican song unusual for the times, Payaso, and El Buen Pastor. However, it is the band's signature song, La Cuna Blanca, that Marrero's voice is mostly associated with.
La Cuna Blanca
is the result of a tragic incident in the band's (and Leavitt's) lives. On their way to a dance in Connecticut
in 1971, the band's van had an accident, killing trumpet player Luis Maysonet and severely injuring Leavitt. Leavitt sustained several fractures in his hip (he walks with a limp ever since), vertebrae and ribs in the accident, and was placed on intensive care. As he recovered from a comatose state, he had a persistent vision of an empty white crib, from which baby cries could be heard. Somehow he associated the vision with his trumpet player, unaware that he had died in the accident. Maysonet was reportedly dressed in black, and telling him: "Raphy, I'll help you from here". When fellow band members mustered the will to tell Leavitt about the player's death, Leavitt claimed that he already knew about it. After seven months of recovery, Leavitt and his band recorded the tribute song, with Leavitt writing dramatic lyrics interpreted by Marrero, arranged to an upbeat, heavily contrasting cha-cha-cha
beat. The bittersweet feeling evoked by the song has made it a popular farewell song at Puerto Rican funerals. Marrero's daughter death from a stray bullet at a reggaeton
club in 2005 brought the song back to light in the collective Puerto Rican conscience, and had the dramatic consequence of having Marrero sing it in a tribute concert to La Selecta the day immediately after her death.
In 1978, he discovered a young singer by the name of Tony Vega, who was to become a legend among salsa singers in his own right. Leavitt and La Selecta were responsible for the introduction of salsa in many countries.
In the 1980s, Leavitt became an independent producer and produced two records for Bobby Valentin Bronco Records. In the 1990s, He established his own record recording company, R.L. records. The company's first production was the album titled "Provocame" (Provoke Me), which became a "hit" in Puerto Rico, United States and South America.
In 1993, Leavitt and La Selecta made their European debut in Spain
. During that tour, they also held concerts in Germany
Leavitt was presented the Rafael Hernandez
Golden Bust Award for his compositions "Payaso
" (Clown), "Jíbaro Soy
" (I'm a Countryboy) and "La Cuna Blanca
" (The White Crib). In 2003, Leavitt and La Selecta held a concert at the Luis A. Ferre
Center of Beautiful Arts in San Juan, where the group was awarded a Tu Musica Award for "Best Salsa Recording of the Year". The event was made into a T.V.
special titled "Raphy Leavitt and his Selecta Orchestra: 30 years of Music History
". Raphy Leavitt and La Selecta continue to be active with musical presentations and tours.