Wednesday, January 26, 2011



The story of Ralfi Pagan...

Born in 1947, Ralfi was a Bronx, New York based Latin soul and salsa singer of Puerto Rican parentage who was active from the late 1960s to the mid '70s. He specialized in soul ballads sung in Spanish and English and released five albums during the 1970s. He may be best known for a duet with Sylvia entitled Soul Je'Taime and for his solo reworking of Make It With You previously recorded by David Gates and Bread. Sadly, it was on a tour of South America while visiting Colombia when he was murdered.

Early career...

Ralfi Pagan (born Rafael Pagan) in Puerto Rico first came to prominence in 1969 with the release of the album Ralfi Pagan for Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci's Fania label. Issued twice, first with all Spanish sung titles and shortly after, with four English song titles substituted for four Spanish titles, Pagan's falsetto tenor favored ballads. This made him highly popular amongst young Hispanic Americans particularly in the urban centers of Los Angeles and New York where Pagan made a significant cultural impact. His forte was ballads such as Who Is The Girl For Me, Don't Stop Now (originally recorded by Eddie Holman), and I Can't See Me Without You. He was also adept on uptempo salsa such as his cover of Oscar Brown's Brother, Where Are You?

In 1971 Ralfi broke through nationally with a Latin cover of Make It With You which entered the Billboard R&B chart on the 10th July 1971 for an eleven week run during which it peaked at #32. It sold 250,000 copiesnationally and Pagan appeared on the nationally syndicated TV show Soul Train. A second album With Love produced by Harvey Averne and Jerry Masucci and recorded in New York consolidated Pagan's status amongst urban hispanics and chicanos. A further R&B hit in 1973 with Soul Je T'Aime,a duet with Sylvia (Robinson) on Vibration Records, was his last appearance on the national charts. The Ralfi album containing a by now familiar balance of Latin-Soul and salsa influenced numbers was released the same year. In 1975 he released hisfourth and final Fania album I Can See which included his distinctive take on Smokey Robinson's Ooh Baby, Baby and the bitter sweet Stay Out of My Life. His voice has been compared with Smokey although it was lighter and less powerful.

Chicano favorite...

By 1976 Ralfi was based in Los Angeles where he found especially favor amongst Chicanos for whom his persona as a sensitive latin lover resonated. He became a regular on the thriving club and salsa dance circuit that included The Gold Dust on Garfield Avenue in Montebello, The King's Table in Pico Rivera, The Monterey West in East Los Angeles, and the Mardi Gras across from MacArthur Park.

Pagan maintained a parallel career as a salsa singer and after a disco release, Girl From The Mountain on Coco records in 1976, he released his fifth album El Flaco De Oro sung entirely in Spanish which represented him as a salsa singer. This appeared on Pumpkris Records for whom he also took the production duties for an album by Johnny Nelson entitled Ralfi Pagan Presenta Johnny Nelson-El Principe de La Salsa. Pagan's final known release is the disco sounding Take Me With You b/w Heaven Sent You also on Pumpkris. An album Take Me With You was scheduled but Pagan's early death curtailed its release.

Death in Colombia...

Pagan had a large following in Latin America and regularly appeared in South America. It was on a tour of Colombia in 1978 where he was substituting for fellow Fania performer Joe Bataan that he was murdered in circumstances that have not yet been collaborated.

Most of Pagan's back catalog has been made available since the mid '90s and he is now probably better known to the general music public then he was during his lifetime. The Gambler, a Fania track from 1972, was featured in the Leon Ichaso film Pinero (2001) starring Benjamin Bratt as the poet-playwright-actor Miguel Pinero.

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