Deeply rooted in the musical tradition of bomba and plena of his native Puerto Rico and son cubano, Ismael Rivera (born on October 5, 1931), also known as Maelo or El Sonero Mayor, went on to become one of the most beloved salsa singers in the history of Puerto Rican music, to the point where the island’s government declared the anniversary of his birth “Ismael Rivera Day” in 2001. The first of five siblings, Rivera developed a passion for music while still a young child, singing and playing make-believe percussion with cans and sticks. During his teenage years, he worked full time as a shoe shiner and carpenter before joining El Conjunto Monterrey in 1948 as a percussionist alongside childhood friend Rafael Cortijo. After a failed stint in the U.S. Army, where he was discharged because of his poor level of English in 1952, Rivera became the lead singer for Orquesta Panamericana, scoring his first couple of hits: “El charlatán,” “La vieja en camisa,” and “Ya yo sé.” A mishap with another band member led to his eventual exit from the group, after which he joined Cortijo’s Combo in 1954, boosting the group’s popularity and lending his voice to the smash hit “El Bombón de Elena.” Towards the end of the decade, the Combo cemented their reputation as A-grade hitmakers in Manhattan’s Latin music scene, where they performed at the Palladium Ballroom, and were featured on Franco Rossi’s Calipso (1959), also starring Harry Belafonte. Rivera’s arrest in 1962 on drug possession charges led to the group’s demise, as the singer had to serve a five-year prison sentence in Kentucky. Upon his release, Rivera recorded and performed with his new orchestra, Ismael Rivera y sus Cachimbos, delivering a string of highly-successful albums such as De colores (1968), Esto fue lo que trajo el barco (1972), and Vengo por la maceta (1973). In 1974, he reunited with Cortijo for a legendary one-time show at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente and released Traigo de todo, which featured “El Nazareno,” one of his best-known songs. Throughout the late ‘70s, Rivera scored his biggest with the Tite Curet Alonso-penned “Las caras lindas,” included in Esto sí es lo mio (1978), and released El Sonero Mayor (1980), his last studio album. Greatly affected by the death of longtime friend Rafael Cortijo in 1982, Rivera retired from stages altogether and eventually died of a heart attack on May 13, 1987.