Joe Bataan and Natalie Cole to Appear at Lehman

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Lehman Center for the Performing Arts continues its 31st season by combing Latin Soul with R&B.

Musical artist, Joe Bataan, took time to speak with me on my radio show, Topically Yours, on the BlakeRadio Network, Rainbow Soul.  Joe was in preparation for his upcoming “A Night of Remembrance” concert at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd West in the Bronx, where he and the famed R&B quintet, Blue Magic, will be sharing the stage on Saturday, June 23rd at 8:00 p.m.  Natalie Cole finishes out the weekend on Sunday, June 24th at 7:00 pm.

Due to his eclectic music and his blending of Black and Latin tempos, many folks think that Joe Bataan, born Bataan Nitollano, is Latin.  But Joe’s mother was African American and his father was Filipino.  

“Back in the early 50s and 60s our mainstream of entertainment was radio.  There wasn’t that much television and really not much black radio like there is today.  I grew up in Spanish Harlem where I learned the Spanish language.  I listened to all types of music.  Whatever came on the radio dictated what I listened to,” stated Joe.  “Early on, Frankie Lyman influenced me.  Frankie’s high pitched voice started a fad. We hadn’t heard the likes of him before. Nat King Cole was one of the highest paid black artists at the time.  Nat got airplay and the limelight along with Frank Sinatra and Patti Paige, so we were really proud of him” recalled Bataan.

 As a young kid, Bataan stood on the street corners and harmonized using a style known as doo-wop. “I am proud of that part of my history because street corner harmonizing is a dying art form. Doo-wop was the only way we knew how to sing since many of us could not afford instruments, so we used our voices to emulate the sounds of instruments.  “My song “Under the Street Lamp,” evolved from that era,” said Joe whose life experiences are reflected in many of his songs.

 Joe is a man that has lived, sometimes hard, sometimes fast and fluid.  He moved to the rhythms and beat of his neighborhood as a teenager, reckless back then, wild like the music he created.  His rowdiness untethered, Joe ended up spending five years in Spaford Youth Detention Center for riding in a stolen vehicle.  Sometimes the harshest lessons end up sending one in a new direction.  While at Spaford, Joe’s direction turned toward music.  Detention gave Joe time to think and envision, thereby he formed a vision that resulted in his combining the modalities of Latin music with Rhythm and Blues, and this merger eventually earned him the moniker “King of Latin Soul.”  While La Lupe and Tito Puente were denizens of Latin Soul music, due to Joe Battan’s unique blending of jazz, R&B, mambo, salsa and pop, he became the first recording artist to officially give birth to the Latin Soul genre in the 1960s. His release of Gypsy Woman and Subway Joe provided him with a cross over audience and secured him fans in both the Black and Latin communities.  He had wide appeal, especially when he sang the lyrics of what sounded like Latin beats and rhythms in English.

“Everything came out of Africa. People think Latin Soul is new but when you think about the beats and how they transported the slaves to Cuba, with music being influenced by the Indian and African culture.  The beat went through New Orleans, moved through the south and up to New York, all influenced by African sounds and different cultural drums. It became our version of world music,” explained the self-taught musician.

The creativity of many artists is a reflection of their environment, the people and things they associate with and Joe Bataan is no exception. “Ordinary Guy,” was written and sung as an expression of love and a humble statement to say how he sees himself.  Understanding the need to change with the musical climes, when disco came in, Joe was ready with “Clap-o, Rap-o” which he released via a company he co-founded, Salsoul Records.

Accustomed to changing gears in life, Bataan disappeared off the musical scene for 20 years turning his attention to counseling youth swayed by crime.  Knowing full well where that leads, Bataan put his complete focus into turning youth around via sharing his past life experience with crime. Like his music, this work became a passion, and Joe spent the next 20 years invested in it.

 “My wife was unhappy with the music industry, so I got out of it to raise a family. I started working at age 40.  I got a job at the Department of Juvenile Justice and became a Juvenile Counselor.  Ironically, I returned to Spaford where I was detained as a youth, so I had the opportunity to give back. A lot of the kids were there due to heinous crimes they committed.  It is depressing to think young kids are involved in crimes like that. In my youth, the neighborhoods looked out for us but today’s kids don’t have that.  A lot of families are not staying together.  Everyone is busy, so don’t dine together or communicate with each other. The spiritual aspect necessary to keep families together is lost,” said Bataan.

“15 is generally the age these kids come into Spaford. It’s kind of depressing. But I talked with these kids about spirit, health and knowledge and tried my best to turn them around, although not as many as I would like. Some of them, grown men now, will be attending my Lehman concert,” said Joe proudly.

Mr. Bataan returned to the stage in 1995, making an appearance at Hostos Community College for a benefit performance. The master was back! A self-taught piano player, singer, band leader, composer and producer, Joe Bataan gave the world “Call My Name,” in 2005, wherein such instruments as the Hammond organ and clavinets were used to produce the famous bass, drums, and Latin percussion rhythms Joe is so well known for.  His knowledge of R&B is sure to blend well on the Lehman Center stage with the equally masterful group, Blue Magic, which is certain to promise a soulful concert.  And what a weekend it will be - featuring the incomparable classy and soulful, Natalie Cole, who will round out the weekend with her “Unforgettable” voice, on Sunday, June 24th at 7:00 pm, guaranteeing a weekend to remember.

So if you wish to hear your favorite songs performed by these legendary artists, get your tickets for Joe Bataan and Blue Magic’s Saturday, June 23rd show at 8:00 p.m., and for the following day, “Jumpstart” Sunday, June 24th with Natalie Cole, at 7:00 p.m., by calling the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 or go on line at www.lehmancenter.org ­­­­­­­

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