In 1975, Colón balanced his schedule as director of the Latin Jazz All-Stars with studies in music theory, composition, and orchestration. His increased knowledge paid off quickly. In 1978, he was named Musician, Producer, and Trombone Player of the Year in a readers' poll conducted by Latin New York. That same year Colón's composition "Che Che Cole," adapted from a Ghanaian children's song, was used by Ntozake Shange in the musical play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Three years later, Latin New York awarded him Musician of the Year, while his album Fantasmas was named Album of the Year. Colón continued to garner acclaim when his album Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos received a Grammy award in 1982.
Although they met backstage before a concert in Panama in 1969, Colón and Blades didn't start collaborating until six years later. While working on the album The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, Colón chose Blades' song "El Cazanguero," which reflected on his experiences as a law student working in a Panamanian prison. The bandleader asked the composer to sing on it. The session was so satisfying, Blades became a full-time member of Colón's band, replacing Lavoe. Their 1978 album, Siembra, became the top-selling album in Fania's catalog. Despite their success, Blades quarreled often with label president Jerry Mascucci over money. Although Colón recorded two solo albums -- El Baquine de Angelitos Negros in 1977 and Solo in 1979 -- and Blades recorded a solo album, Maestra Vida, in 1980, their solo work failed to match the commercial success of their joint efforts.
In 1981, the two musicians resumed their partnership, with Blades playing coro on Colón's solo album Fantasmas. The following year, they collaborated on the Grammy-winning album Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos, which yielded the hits singles "Tiburon," "Ligia Elena," and "Te Estan Buscando." Their partnership again proved short-lived as Colón and Blades split up after working on the film #The Last Fight. The split was far from amiable and the two musicians continued to feud until reuniting for a concert at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan in March 1992. Despite collaborating on the album Tras la Tormenta in 1995, Colón and Blades recorded their parts separately. Following a reunion concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1997, Colón and Blades performed a series of concerts together.
In 1992 Colón ran for the United States Congress; it was not his last foray into politics. In 2001 he ran for Public Advocate of New York City and, while he didn't win, placed respectably. He also served as mayor Michael Bloomberg's representative advisor and liaison to New York City's Latin Media Entertainment Commission for more than a decade. In 2012 and 2013, Colón used social media and other means to actively campaign against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, and after his death, against his Chávez's successor Nicolás Maduro.
In 1993 Colón recorded Hecho en Puerto Rico with an all-star band featuring ex-members of the Fania All-Stars, Papo Lucca, and Bobby Valentin. Since leaving Sony over its lack of promotional support, Colón remained active, filling stadiums and concerts halls throughout Latin America and releasing new material including Experiencia in 2004, followed by The Player three years later and El Malo, Vol. 2: Prisioneros del Mambo in 2008. Fania and Get on Down started remastering and reissuing Colón's best albums in 2010. In 2015 Billboard magazine named him one of the most influential "Latin Artists of All Time." His autobiography, -Barrio de Guapos (The Secret Life of Willie Colón), was published in 2018 and he also started the record label Willie Colon Presents.
~ Craig Harris, Rovi
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