Rudy Pérez shares his journey from poverty to the Grammys
NEW YORK (AP) — Grammy winner Rudy Pérez has worked with superstars like Beyonce and Julio Iglesias and has been named a Billboard Producer of the Decade. He usually keeps a low profile, but he’s stepping out front to inspire others to fight for their dreams, with a new book.
“The Latin Hit Maker,” tells the story of his journey from Cuba to the United States and the struggles he had to overcome en route to a career as an award- winning songwriter, producer and arranger. The book was co-written with Robert Nolan and released last week under HarperCollins’ Christian imprint Zondervan.
Pérez, who was born in Cuba in poverty, has helped create hits for Christina Aguilera, Il Divo, Natalie Cole, Michael Bolton, Marc Anthony, José Feliciano, Cyndi Lauper, Arturo Sandoval, Andrea Bocelli and others.
“I was a kid who sometimes took the wrong direction,” the 61-year-old said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “But my passion for music and for my dream helped me overcome that and achieve my future in a country that opened its doors for me as an immigrant, as a refugee.”
Pérez shares the hardships of his childhood. He spent the first five years of his life visiting his father, who was incarcerated in a remote prison by Fidel Castro’s government. And just as his family was about to leave Cuba in a U.S.-sponsored Freedom Flight, a Cuban agent detained his mother at the airport.
“We were almost getting to the plane in the middle of a line of soldiers carrying rifles on each side, which in itself is already terrifying for a child, when suddenly a guard came out and stood in front of my mom and said ‘all of you proceed, she is not going,’” he recalled.
“Thank God we were such rebellious children and we cried so loud, we made such a scene that we managed (to get her free) and my mom was able to leave Cuba,” he added in reference to his three siblings.
Once in Miami, he was the target of bullying for not speaking English and, by 15, he had joined a gang. He spent six months in a juvenile detention center, but that time, combined with his religious faith and the support of his united family, allowed him to turn his life around.
Through it all, music was his thing. At 13, he spent a whole year working in a barbed wire factory and helping his father on painting and construction jobs in order to afford his first guitar and amp.
“All the battles to get out of the slums to do something with my life, and getting to see the extraordinary things I got to do, was only because of the grace of God, because of my constant fight to keep going and going without stopping to look to the sides,” Pérez said.
That drive has led Pérez to write over a thousand songs, many of which have landed on the charts earned him Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations, with five wins as producer and/or songwriter, including for Aguilera’s Spanish album “Mi Reflejo” and Luis Miguel’s “Aries.”
He is also a philanthropist through an ASCAP Foundation scholarship program that helps Latin children in poverty study music at Berklee and the University of Miami.
“The Latin Hit Maker” talks about a country that received him as an immigrant, but he abstains from making political judgments, while expressing solidarity for migrants.
“I can only tell my own story, I cannot be in their skin or shoes because only they and God know what they’re going through,” he said with concern. “What I see makes me fall down to my knees and pray for those people.”
Pérez, a father of five, writes that the church and his grandfather had great influences on him. His grandfather, a Baptist pastor, was the pillar of his family and made his grandchildren go to church a few times a week. Going to church connected him with the three loves of his life — family, faith and music — and still does.
“I always say that I’m doing well because of my grandfather and my dad (also a pastor) because they were saints, they were amazing men. These people lived only to do good and help others,” he said.
Follow Sigal Ratner-Arias on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner .