On Thursday, the most successful tropical Latin singer in history will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With his first hit, a reworking of Juan Gabriel’s “Hasta Que Te Conocí” in 1993, the then-24-year-old Marc Anthony became an international superstar, transforming salsa into something more personal — highly dramatic and intensely passionate — and remaking Latin pop music in the process.
The numbers are remarkable: a career concert gross of around half a billion dollars, 105 No. 1 hits on a variety of Billboard charts, dozens of RIAA gold and platinum certifications, 8 billion YouTube plays, two Grammys, six Latin Grammys and more prizes and awards than there is space to name in this article.
Today, after 30 years at the top, his powerful, soaring voice remains a phenomenon. His longtime producer Sergio George says he always knew that Anthony was a once-in-a-generation talent. “From the first record, I knew!” he tells Variety. “I told him, ‘The sky’s the limit.’”
“The reason he’s where he’s at is he visualizes it,” he continues. “The power of the mind? The vision? He has it.”
Born Marco Antonio Muñíz in El Barrio (East Harlem in New York City) to Puerto Rican parents, he was named by his musician father Felipe for the stellar Mexican vocalist of the same name. Anthony remembers singing along with his dad at the age of three. “I stuttered all my life,” he told Tracy Smith in a 2016 interview for “CBS This Morning,” “but when I sang, I didn’t stutter. And that was my preferred way of communicating.”
He grew up at 102nd Street and Third Avenue in a neighborhood known for music, which fell into two main streams: a Latin-soul mixture that came together naturally on the streets of his barrio, and the retro-Cuban salsa boom that exploded during the ’70s of his childhood. There were romantic songs, and there was English-language pop in its many flavors. “Everybody played their own music out the window,”
Anthony had been a busy session singer before he released his first single, “Rebel,” in 1988, singing in English in the dance genre known as freestyle. Anglicizing his name professionally to avoid confusion with his still-active namesake, he was particularly associated with the house-music visionary Todd Terry and the Masters at Work team of Little Louie Vega, with whom he opened for Tito Puente at Madison Square Garden in 1992, and Kenny “Dope” González.
He hadn’t planned on a career as a Spanish-language singer. “I never thought in a million years that it would be salsa or Spanish in any way, shape, or form,” he told Billboard’s Leila Cobo. For one thing, although he’d grown up hearing Spanish, he didn’t speak it well. But when he teamed up with George, who was at the time the house producer for Ralph Mercado’s RMM label, his fledgling career hit a reset, and he got his Spanish together, fast. The team’s second album, “Todo a Su Tiempo” (1995) took them two years of work and generated seven No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Tropical Songs chart. The third album, “Contra la Corriente” (1997), was the first-ever salsa album to enter the Billboard 200 album chart, but that understates its impact on Latin music.
Together with George, Anthony created a new pop-salsa style that quickly dominated the charts and inspired countless imitators. At first, he told Smith, his dream was simply “to get out of the neighborhood.” Suddenly it happened, and he found himself singing for large audiences in multiple Spanish-speaking countries. He became a major player in the internationalization of Spanish-language music, ultimately relocating from his native New York to Miami.
The vastness of the international Spanish-speaking market, underserved by the mainstream U.S. music business, came as a revelation to him. Although his two biggest U.S. charting singles were in English (“You Sang to Me,” and “I Need to Know,” from his self-titled 1999 fourth album), he remained focused on that larger Spanish-speaking world as a career objective. Eleven of his 13 albums are in Spanish.
In 2015, after years of informally mentoring younger artists in the business of Latin music, together with music biz veteran Michel Vega, he founded Magnus Media, a company focused on representing Latinos in music and sports. Among its holdings are Magnus Music, the label that now releases Anthony’s albums. Magnus’ publishing division has young songwriters under contract; they give him first look, so he has plenty of material to choose from when he goes to record. “I’m surrounded by artists who write for me,” Anthony said in a 2022 EPK promoting his most recent album, the Grammy-winning “Pa’llá Voy.” “They write with my voice in mind, with my inflections in mind.”
When it’s time to record, “the approach is the same as it was 30 years ago,” says George. “It’s nuts! When we go into the studio, we don’t know what we’re going to do. There’s no pre-production, nothing! He has a basic song demo, done in a ballad form. We know that it’s gonna be successful but we don’t know how. You would think that these two guys [Sergio and Marc] are under all the pressure in the world, but we go in completely unprepared.”
Together with the musicians, they build up the music on the spot, with a live, spontaneous feel that sets it apart from the pre-programmed sound that has become the norm across many segments.
His songs tend to be movie-like dramatic monologues, so it’s not surprising that he’s an accomplished actor. “Marc’s a photographer, a painter, an actor. He’s an artist beyond music,” says Carlos Pérez, director of many Anthony music videos. “On set, he’s always a pleasure because he looks at things from a completely different point of view than most artists. He understands camera position, lighting and how it all impacts the character’s emotions.”
Anthony, who also made music with Jennifer Lopez when they were married, brings the same intense focus to the craft of acting that he does to singing, as per his emotive starring role in Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” (1998) on Broadway, with Rubén Blades and Ednita Nazario as co-stars. His film work includes “El Cantante” (2006), in which he played the tragic title role of salsa legend Héctor Lavoe, who died the year Anthony’s first album was released. Most recently, he appeared in “In the Heights” (2021), as well as earlier roles in “Man on Fire” (2004, appearing opposite Denzel Washington), “In the Time of Butterflies” (2001), “Bringing Out the Dead” (1999) and a small but moving part in critical favorite “Big Night” (1996).
As a philanthropist, he co-founded, with his longtime friend and colleague Henry Cárdenas, the Maestro Cares Foundation. Maestro built its first orphanage, Niños de Cristo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic, in 2014, followed by children’s homes in Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other countries in Latin America. In 2017, working with Magnus, he created Somos Una Voz, an alliance of artists and athletes to help provide humanitarian relief to areas affected by natural disasters.
Yet the foundation of it all is his music — and that voice.
“He will go down as one of the greatest artists of all time, period, regardless of genre,” George concludes. “He’s there already. There’s no one like him.”