Puerto Rico Profile: Marc Anthony
December 29, 2000
On New Years Eve, revelers will fill the streets of New York City, many of them gathering in Times Square to celebrate the beginning of a new millennium. The real party, however, will be eight blocks south of Times Square, where Puerto Rican salsa sensation and pop star Marc Anthony will dazzle some 20,000 swooning fans in Madison Square Garden.
Filling that arena is nothing new to Anthony, 32, who was born and raised in Spanish Harlem. In 1998, he became the first solo salsa singer ever to perform there, and the show was sold out.
It seems that from the beginning of his life, Marc Anthony was destined for stardom. In fact, he was born with an already famous name. His father, Felipe Muñiz, was a musician, and he named his youngest son Marco Antonio Muñiz, after a Mexican star known as the "King of Boleros." The younger Marco Antonio Muñiz later shortened his name to Marc Anthony in large part to avoid confusion with his legendary predecessor.
Young Marco Antonio was also a natural performer. As a child, he learned the Puerto Rican song "El Zolsar," and he would perform it repeatedly at family gatherings. Despite the pedigree of his name and the traditional songs of his childhood, however, he took a somewhat circuitous path to the world of Latin pop.
Marc Anthony began his career singing over the pulsing beats of New Yorks underground dance music. He teamed up with producer Little Louie Vega and, in 1991, they released "Ride on the Rhythm," which became a #1 dance hit in New York. That song, and the album on which it appeared, caught the attention of Tito Puente. The legendary "Mambo King" invited Anthony and Vega to open his revue at Madison Square Garden in 1992.
After performing in a major arena, Marc Anthony lost his appetite for the underground club scene. In 1993, he was listening to the radio in his car when he heard a song called "Hasta Que Te Conocí" by Juan Gabriel. He had not performed in Spanish since his days singing "El Zolsar" in the living room, but Gabriels song grabbed him. "It ripped me apart," he said later. "I dont know why and I dont want to know why. I called my manager and asked if I could record this in salsa."
Marc Anthony recorded the song and performed it at a Latin music convention in New York. The results were swift and extraordinary. He received a standing ovation from the convention crowd and a similar reception when he sang it for a Spanish-language variety show later on the same day. Almost overnight, Marc Anthony, who had hardly ever performed in Spanish, became a major salsa star. "I saw my old life shattered," he said later.
Over the next five years, Marc Anthony released three albums in Spanish and toured all over the world. He was the Billboard Best New Artist of the Year in 1994. His second album, Todo A Su Tiempo, was nominated for a Grammy and included a Billboard Song of the Year, "Te Conozco Bien." He won a Grammy with his next album release, Contra La Corriente.
Amazingly, music did not consume his life during these years. He also appeared on Broadway and in several movies, and he showed that he is quite capable of being a serious actor. After playing minor roles in two films, Hackers and The Substitute, he attracted notice as a low-key waiter in the critically acclaimed Big Night. In 1998, Paul Simon cast him as the lead in his Broadway musical "The Capeman," about the circumstances that led Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican teenager and gang-member, to kill two people in a street fight in 1959. The musical was a flop, but Marc Anthony received almost universal praise for his performance.
1999 was a big year for Marc Anthony, as his singing and acting careers both took a step forward. On film, he played his most challenging role yet as a drug-crazed, dreadlocked homeless man in the Martin Scorsese drama Bringing out the Dead. Playing opposite Nicolas Cage, who played a New York ambulance driver on the verge of a breakdown, Anthony disappeared into his character and became what Scorsese called "the soul of the movie."
In the recording studio, Marc Anthony compiled his fourth album, a self-titled effort that marked his first English-language project since the early 90s. In a year dominated by Latin crossover acts like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias, Anthony made a strong showing in what Rolling Stone jokingly called "the Worlds Perfect Boyfriend Contest, Sensitive Category." His English lyrics were notably more sophisticated than those of other Latin crooners, and his song "I Need to Know" became a Top 5 hit. He also sang a duet with Jennifer Lopez on her 1999 album On the Six that was intense enough to start unfounded rumors of a romance between the two New York-based Puerto Rican superstars.
Marc Anthony instead fell in love with another famous Puerto Rican beauty, former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres. The two were married earlier this year.
The past decade has been a whirlwind for Marc Anthony. He has switched back and forth between languages and genres with astonishing ease. He has generated a string of hits as a singer in dance clubs, as a cantante de salsa, and as a mainstream pop artist. He has drawn praise for his provocative acting performances on stage and screen. It almost seems like there is nothing left for him to try. Yet when the clock strikes twelve this New Years Eve, and Marc Anthony stands triumphant on the stage at Madison Square Garden, he will not be merely celebrating the past. He will be introducing us to an unpredictable, promising, and most likely brilliant future.