Marc Anthony: Friends & Colleagues Share Stories About the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year

Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images for Univision
Marc Anthony performs at the Univision's 13th Edition Of Premios Juventud Youth Awards at Bank United Center on July 14, 2016 in Miami.

When Marc Anthony, 48, took his first stab at stardom in the late 1980s, he came out of New York’s Spanish Harlem to make his mark on the city’s budding freestyle dance music scene. And he failed to connect.

Then this son of Puerto Rican parents turned to salsa, the New York-rooted style that draws from jazz, Cuban music and the sounds of his parents’ homeland. With that move, his career ignited.

During the past two decades, Anthony has sold 8 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen Music. He has become an arena headliner, a film and TV star, a philanthropist and an icon in the Latin world and the broader market. He has told Billboard of his career bridging two cultures, “I am both. I understand both.”

On Nov. 16, Anthony will be honored as the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year at a gala on the eve of the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, where he will be feted among friends and colleagues.

“We create magic together while having fun,” says pop producer RedOne, who has produced and collaborated with the singer and played a role in Anthony recording his hit single “Vivir Mi Vida,” which spent 17 weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and won the Latin Grammy for record of the year in 2013. “When we’re talking seriously, I realize how incredibly wise he is.”

For Pitbull, he’s not only a living legend, “he also has been a mentor and, more importantly, a great friend.”

Ahead of Anthony’s Latin Recording Academy honor, Billboard asked friends and colleagues to share their stories of the singer.

LA INDIA

"We have to do something with this boy"
Salsa singer La India was married to songwriter-producer Little Louie Vega when they both met Anthony in the New York dance club scene of the late ’80s.

“I fell in love with his voice. I told my husband, ‘Louie, we have to do something with this boy.’ He sang with this maturity and a very romantic, very soothing voice. It was almost raspy with clarity. Marc and I recorded the duet ‘Vivir Lo Nuestro’ for [RMM Records’ all-star salsa album] La Combinación Perfecta in 1993. We sang that song live maybe three times in our lifetime: in Puerto Rico, at Madison Square Garden [in New York] and at the Miami Arena. I was presenting him to my fans then, and he worked really hard and he persevered.”

SERGIO GEORGE

"Even then, Marc was visualizing how his life was going to be"
Producer Sergio George collaborated with Anthony on several albums, including his salsa debut, Otra Notra, in 1993, which reached No. 2 on Tropical Albums.

“He was single, lived with his mom in the projects and didn’t have a dollar to his name. He even asked me [if he could] sing background vocals on his own album so that I could pay him as a background singer. But he still had this natural magnetism. The first record was very successful, but he was still struggling. He came over to my house with a friend to pick songs for his second album. When they were leaving, I went to see them out and realized they’d come in a Lincoln Continental. The friend was a fan, and Marc had asked him to drive him. Even then, Marc was visualizing how his life was going to be.”

 

TOMMY MOTTOLA

"I knew we could make him one of the biggest stars in the world"
Tommy Mottola, as chairman/CEO of Sony Music, signed Anthony for his first English-language album in 1999 and helped break him as a mainstream pop star.

“Back in the 1990s, I got a call from a friend who said, ‘You have to come and see this musical, The Capeman [written by Paul Simon]. It has this guy called Marc Anthony in it.’ I go and see for the first time this salsero with this golden voice. I don’t think it took me two weeks to sign him. I knew if I could capture that voice and put it into pop music, we could make him one of the biggest stars in the world. One night, one of my top producers, Cory Rooney, and I were in the studio and created the rhythm tracks for the singles ‘I Need to Know’ and ‘You Sang to Me.’ Two or three hours later, Marc came in and recorded both songs that night. They were his first hits, and both went to No. 1.”

LAURA PAUSINI

"He taught me how to salsa"
Italian superstar Laura Pausini began touring with Anthony in 2006.

“When we met, we clicked as if we were childhood friends. In 2006, I toured together with Marc and Marco Antonio Solís, and it allowed us to spend a lot of time together with our families. During our trips, it was Marc who got me hooked on many TV series and gave me the entire DVD set of all the episodes of Lost. Sometimes he’d come up to my tour bus and shout: ‘Laura, your turn [onstage]!’ I’d be frantic because I had to finish my episode! When we filmed the video to my song ‘Se Fue’ in a salsa version [in 2014], he taught me how to dance salsa.”

AFO VERDE

"I encountered an incredibly organized professional"
In his role as chairman/CEO of Sony Music U.S. Latin, Afo Verde has worked with Anthony since 2010.

“When I arrived in Miami in 2010, he called me and said, ‘I recorded an album that pays homage to my idols [Iconos].’ We had worked together before, when I ran Sony Argentina, but this was our first true work meeting. I came from a more chaotic artistic environment, and I encountered an incredibly organized professional. We spent an entire afternoon in the Sony conference room, and it was one of those listening sessions that was more like a storytelling session, where every song had a reason and a story. I couldn’t believe this very precise person was the same artist that gave it all onstage. I was very impressed by his professionalism.”

HENRY CARDENAS

"He does everything we ask of him"
Henry Cardenas, chairman/CEO of Cardenas Marketing Network, has been Anthony’s booking agent for the past eight years. In 2012, he co-founded Anthony’s Maestro Cares Foundation, which runs schools and orphanages in five countries.

“I brought him to perform at a dance in Chicago in the 1990s. His manager at the time, David Maldonado, had begged me to put him on. I paid him $500. He didn’t even have a band. He had a [backing-tape system]. It broke down when he went onstage, so he sang three songs a cappella. People started asking, ‘Who’s that skinny guy? Wow, he’s going to be big. That guy can sing.’ Today, I pay him much more than that, of course. But he also does much more than most artists. When I invited him to visit an orphanage in the Dominican Republic in 2012, the minute he saw those kids, he asked: ‘What do we have to do?’ That’s how we started Maestro Cares. He didn’t know anything about foundations, but to this day, everything we ask of him, he does.”

RANDY MALCOM

"He’s precious with the details"
Randy Malcom, who forms one-half of the duo Gente de Zona with Alexander Delgado, signed to Anthony’s company Magnus Entertainment in 2015.

“We sang together with Marc Anthony at a concert in Costa Rica last April or May. In midsong, Alexander’s in-ear monitor [battery pack] fell off his waist. And right there, Marc leans down, picks up the pack from the floor and starts putting it back on Alexander again. All this is happening as I’m singing my part. Marc was worried because without the in-ear monitor, Alexander couldn’t hear himself properly. But that’s Marc. He’s very meticulous about the sound. We recently played Radio City Music Hall [in New York] two nights in a row, and both nights he did a lengthy sound check. He’s very precious with those kinds of details.” 

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 12 issue of Billboard.