William Anthony Colón is a Nuyorican salsa musician. Primarily a trombonist, Colón also sings, writes, produces and acts. He is also involved in municipal politics in New York City.
Willie Colón was born in the South Bronx, New York, to Nuyorican parents. He picked up the trumpet from a young age, and later switched to trombone, inspired by the all-trombone sound of Mon Rivera and Barry Rogers. He spent some summers at his maternal grandmother’s sisters’s (La finca de Celín y Ramón farm in in the outskirts of Manatí, Puerto Rico on the road to neighboring Ciales, Puerto Rico.
He was signed to Fania Records at 15 and recorded his first album at age 17, which ultimately sold more than 300,000 copies. Due to fortuitous events, the main record producer at Fania at the time, Johnny Pacheco, recommended Héctor Lavoe to him.
Mr. Colón has been a civil rights, community and political activist since the age of 16. He has served as a member of the Latino Commission on AIDS  and the United Nations Immigrant Foundation, President of the Arthur Schomburg Coalition for a Better New York, member of the Board of Directors of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In 1995, Mr. Colon became the first minority to serve on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) national board and is now a member of the ASCAP FOUNDATION.
Beyond the trombone, he has also worked as a composer, arranger, and singer, and eventually as a producer and director. Combining elements of jazz, rock, and salsa, his work incorporates the rhythms of traditional music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and “that ‘other’ ancestral homeland, Africa”, representing the mostly one-way flow from Puerto Rico to the New York-based diaspora. “His life and music commute back and forth between his home turf in the Bronx and his ancestral Puerto Rico, with more than casual stop-offs in other musical zones of the Caribbean.” Colón “makes the relation between diaspora and Caribbean homeland the central theme of his work,” particularly in his 1971 Christmas album, Asalto navideño. The lyrics and music of the songs on this album “enact the diaspora addressing the island culture in a complex, loving but at the same time mildly challenging way.
He went on to have many successful collaborations with salsa musicians and singers such as Ismael Miranda, Celia Cruz and Soledad Bravo, and singer-songwriter Rubén Blades. On his website, Colon claims to hold the “all time record for sales in the Salsa genre, created 40 productions that have sold more than thirty million records worldwide.”
One significant overarching theme in Colón’s music, which draws from many cultures and several different styles, is an exploration of the competing associations that Puerto Ricans have with their home and with the United States. Colón uses his songs to depict and investigate the problems of living in the U.S. as a Puerto Rican, and also to imply the cultural contributions that Puerto Ricans have to offer.
In September 2004, Colón received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Over the course of his career, he has collaborated with notable musicians such as the Fania All Stars, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, David Byrne, and Celia Cruz. Siembra, his record with Ruben Blades, was the best selling album for its genre.
Colón has served as the chair of the Association of Hispanic Arts.
In addition to serving as a visiting professor and receiving honorary degrees for music and humane letters at various universities, in 1991, Colón received Yale University’s Chubb Fellowship.
Colón currently serves as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s representative advisor & liaison to the Latin Media Entertainment Commission (to which Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lopez serve as the celebrity chairs). Willie’s base of operations, ELMALO,Inc. Creative Services is in New Rochelle, New York.
On April 16, 2008, Colón announced his endorsement of U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.
Colón has also recently released two new singles, in promotion for his new album El Malo Vol II: Prisioneros del Mambo, “Amor de Internet” and “Corazón Partido.”