José María Napoleón

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About José María Napoleón

Award-winning singer, songwriter, and sometime-actor José María Napoleón is revered in his home country of Mexico -- and throughout Latin America -- as the "Poet of Song." As one of the key protagonists of the hugely influential balada movement of the 1970s, his musical signature as a writer and recording artist lies in delicately layered orchestral arrangements that weaves elements of traditional styles from mariachi to rancheras to boleros with sophisticated orchestral and rock charts amid consciously beautiful melodies. That trademark sound, though it has evolved over the decades, was present on "El Grillo," the first single from his self-titled debut album. Its lithe, languid strings, waltz tempo, and passionate folk-rock overtones took radio stations by storm. Its sophistication and creativity were matched by his determination to build on them to create his own sound. The pinnacle was 1980's Celos (whose title track is his most recognized song) and continued to evolve all the way into the 21st century on singles such as "Ven Dame Beso," "Amiga Mia," and "Muchacha de Octubre." Napoleón is in a rarifed class of songwriters; his peers include Juan Gabriel, Marco Antonio Solís, and Jose Jose. Napoleón was born in 1950 in Aguascalientes to parents of Sephardic (his mother) and Basque (his father) origins. His mother instilled in him a love for music early in life. She taught him to hum and sing, and encouraged his youthful efforts to write. At age nine, shortly after joining the local church choir, he composed the song "Esta Tarde," which they performed. Harsh economic realities fell on his family and prevented him from getting a formal musical education, but Napoleón continued to develop his writing nonetheless while working various jobs as a mechanic, baker, carpenter, and even a pharmacy clerk. Napoleón eventually made his way to Mexico City in pursuit of songwriting as a career. His resonant tenor voice on his demos caught the ear of record executives. At age 20, it birthed a star with the hit single "El Grillo," and his self-titled debut (later retitled El Poeta de la Canción). Buoyed by its radio success and the popularity of his personal appearances due to an innate stage charisma, Napoleón continued releasing albums with startling regularity bbetween1970 and 1982 when Musart, his label folded. There were a dozen in all, including Pajarillo and Hombre (both 1977), Sin Tu Amor (1979), and María Susana (1982). He penned charting hits during this period including the emotionally charged "Pajarillo," "Hombre," "Eres," "Leña Verde," and "Celos." In addition, his songwriting skills were recognized and employed by other storied performers such as Pepe Aguilar and Plácido Domingo, Vicente Fernández, and Pedro Fernández, to name just a few. As an actor he was also featured in several telenovelas. Napoleón made his television debut playing a singer in the well-known Variedades de Media Noche as a singer, and in 1980 played the role of Benito in the series Al Rojo Vivo. During the late '90s he played a recurring role in the telenovela El Privilegio de Amar, and in 2004 played himself in the TV movie Mi Verdad. After Musart folded, Napoleón signed to BMG's Ariola, releasing four albums including the now classic Tiempo al Tiempo (1983) and ¡Aventurero! (1986). Between 1988's Recuentro and 1997's Lo Que el Tiempo Se Llevó, he signed to Universal Music's Fonovisia label, where he delivered more than a dozen hit singles. After the IM Discos issue of Hoy in 2000, with which he recorded five albums -- including the smash Las Canciones de Mi Vida in 2003 -- he recorded for a number of labels including Continental (for 2010's Necio Corazón) and Sony Music Latin for 2012's Blanco y Negro. Two albums, 2005's Serie Max and 2016's Vive (after a return to Fonovisia) both placed inside the Top 10 on the Latin Pop albums chart, while the latter, an audio-video set of duets and re-recordings, hit the top spot on Mexico's album charts. Another collection, El Poeta de la Canción: 20 Éxitos, was issued in 2018 -- at the same time as his catalog was remastered for reissue and he was prepping another studio recording prefaced by no less than six pre-release singles. Three charted: "Amiga Mia," "Muchacha de Octubre, and "Agua y Sed." In August, the Latin Recording Academy presented Napoleón with a lifetime achievement award. ~ Chris True

August 18, 1948