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People Top 5
LAST UPDATE: Tuesday February 10, 2015 01:10PM EST
PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- January 09, 2006
- Vol. 65
- No. 1
The Mambo King
Bringing Latin Rhythms and a Love of Music to His Students, Ramon Rodriguez Changes Lives at a Harlem Conservatory
Case in point: Yeissonn Villamar, 17, who two years ago was in a gang and feared some of the members wanted to kill him. Encouraged by Rodriguez and a girlfriend, Villamar fled that life and threw his energies into studying the piano. These days he travels 90 minutes from Queens five days a week for ensemble rehearsals and earns money playing gigs. “Ramon took me under his wing,” Villamar says. “He's been like a father to me.”
The son of Cuban immigrants, Rodriguez gained a love of music from his father, Mario, a tailor, who took the family to Broadway shows and concerts and bought Rodriguez a piano for his fifth birthday. Rodriguez was contemplating a career in chemistry until a high school science teacher encouraged him to pursue music. Classically trained, he eventually found his heart in the Latin sound, tracking down musicians and begging for lessons. These days Rodriguez leads his young ensemble in performances of mambo, salsa and other forms made famous by the late Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and other greats. Three group members performed at 2004's Latin Billboard Awards. Honored by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation last fall, Rodriguez is quick to shift the spotlight. “The kids,” he says, “they make it happen.”
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