Not only has Marc Anthony sold more records than any other salsa artist, but he has earned multi-platinum status with his self-titled English language album, starred on Broadway in Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” and on the silver screen in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead,” and sold out Madison Square Garden five times.
He has been hailed as the “reigning king of salsa” by The New York Times, which praised his “flawless singing” while calling him “somebody who could compete with the great pop figures of the (20th)century.” Yet at 32, with most of his career ahead of him, Marc Anthony is already a phenomenon of the 21st.
Having transcended the so-called “Latin wave” of the late 1990s, Marc Anthony is very much his own man. A man, moreover, still shaking his head over how far he’s come.
In fact, expectations for the singer born Marco Antonio Muniz ran high from the start. Named by his musician-father after a famous Mexican singer of the same name, he changed his name professionally to avoid being confused with the legendary singer. The Muniz family kitchen table in Spanish Harlem was his first “stage,” his “repertoire” a single song about a bird native to Puerto Rico. Even as a small child he knew how to wow an audience, in this case his extended family and their musician friends.
“He had just the one song,” his father recalls, “but, boy, he could belt it out.”
Marc grew up listening to rock and rhythm and blues, and began singing, in English, in dance clubs in New York, where the audience might number 500 on a good night. He specialized in a terse, minimalist form of dance music called “house music,” in which a singer repeats a musical phrase over and over, with slight variations, to the accompaniment of a rhythm track.
He also sang background on records with a band called the Latin Rascals, who worked with producer Little Louie Vega. When Vega received a contract with Atlantic Records in 1991, he asked Anthony to be his singer. While none of the records they did together was especially successful, one of them, “Rebel,” was a hit in clubs.
Marc’s club days were rapidly nearing an end, however. In 1992, the legendary Latin percussionist and bandleader Tito Puente asked Vega and Anthony to open his revue at Madison Square Garden. They were a hit, and Marc found singing before such an enormous crowd intoxicating. Yet the real turning point in his career still lay ahead, the result of a song heard on the radio by chance.
His manager had suggested he sing in Spanish, but Anthony wasn’t interested. Then one day, while driving in a car in Manhattan, Marc heard a song on the radio by a singer named Juan Gabriel. “It was called “Hasta Que Te Conoci”” Marc recalls, “which means ‘Until I Met You,’ and it ripped me apart. I don’t know why and I don’t want to know why. I called my manager and asked if I could record it in salsa.”
In 1993 he did, and brought the musical tracks on DAT to Radio y Musica, a Latin music convention to which Marc’s manager had sent him to perform. It would be a decision and a day that would change his life. Yet it began inauspiciously enough, with mainly disc jockeys in the audience and Marc performing in clothes borrowed for the occasion. One person clapped as he took the stage. “Make believe you’re singing in your living room to your mom,” he told himself as he began.
When he finished, he left the stage so quickly his manager had to grab him and point out that he was receiving a standing ovation. Several of the disc jockeys were dialing their cell phones. “Find this kid’s CD,” he heard one of them say. “I threw it out this morning, it’s in the trash. Find it, and play it!”
Later that day, he appeared on a television show called “Carnaval Internacional,” which was broadcast all over the world. “That changed my life forever,” Anthony says. “I mean in one day. It seemed like years before I was ever in New York again. I was booked and booked and booked: Panama, Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Miami, Los Angeles. I woke up once in the middle of the night in a hotel and I didn’t know where I was. I called my brother’s room and said, ‘Where are we?’ All I could see was a city at night. Tokyo. I thought, ‘How did this happen?'”
Despite his growing fame in other countries, however, Anthony remained relatively unknown outside the Latin music world in the country of his birth, the result of having sung almost exclusively in Spanish. All of that changed with the September 1999 release of Marc Anthony, his self-titled English-language Pop CD. The album debuted at #8 on the Billboard 200 Album chart and was certified platinum six weeks later. Seven months after its release, it was still resting comfortably in the Top 40, having sold more than two million copies in the US alone. The album has since been certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
The initial success of Marc Anthony was driven, in part, by the irresistible groove of “I Need To Know,” the album’s first single. The certified gold track spent 11 weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and an additional eight weeks in the Top 40. The song earned Marc a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (1999). Meanwhile, “Dimelo,” the Spanish-language version of “I Need to Know,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart and won a Latin Grammy for Song of the Year. The album’s second single “You Sang To Me” hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance (2000). Marc Anthony also featured a track with very special significance for the singer. Called “My Baby You,” the song was written for Anthony’s six-year-old daughter, Arianna. “It’s a daddy professing his love,” he says.
One of Anthony’s electrifying live performances was lensed for an exclusive HBO special, “Marc Anthony: The Concert from Madison Square Garden,” which debuted on Valentine’s Day 2000. The special was produced and directed for Cream Cheese Productions by Marty Callner, whose previous HBO credits include specials starring Madonna, Garth Brooks and Jerry Seinfeld. The special showcased Anthony’s English-language hits, along with smashes from the Spanish-language salsa albums that have established him as the world’s top-selling salsa singer.
Anthony has been awarded eight gold and platinum certifications: His albums Contra La Corriente, Todo A Su Tiempo, and Marc Anthony have all turned gold: Marc Anthony has achieved RIAA triple platinum status in the U.S.; and “I Need To Know” and “You Sang To Me” have been certified gold. Marc’s album Contra La Corriente was awarded a Grammy for Best Latin/Tropical Performance (1998). His last salsa release, a greatest hits album, Desde El Principio: From the Beginning, held the #1 slot on the Billboard Latin 50 for seven weeks and was the #1 album for the year 2000 on that chart.
Yet, Anthony’s success has not been limited to the music world. He was cast by music legend Paul Simon in the Broadway musical “The Capeman” and has graced the silver screen with significant roles in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” and Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night.” He also appeared in “The Substitute,” “Hackers,” and the Showtime original film “In the Time of the Butterflies.”
His role on Broadway as the star of “The Capeman” kept Anthony from promoting his third salsa album, Contra La Corriente, when it was initially released (it was certified gold anyway, right out of the box). As a temporary farewell of sorts, Marc gave a concert at Madison Square Garden. No salsa performer had ever been booked into the Garden, except as part of a revue. Marc Anthony sold out every seat in the house, a feat he would repeat every year thereafter.
And Anthony continued to delight sold-out crowds on tour with a highly successful concert series across North America in the winter and summer of 2000.
In places where Spanish is spoken, and especially in Puerto Rico, Anthony is held in a regard approaching reverence. A concert review in Puerto Rico’s #1 newspaper El Nuevo Dia proclaimed him “a prophet in his native land.”
One of his fans in Spanish Harlem–quoted in a profile of Anthony which ran in The New Yorker–summed up Marc Anthony with the memorable image: “He is like a flame that walks.” Libre captures the sizzling sound of that flame.