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Félix Frank “Frankie” Figueroa Villa, Jr., better known as “Señor Estilo” (Mister Style), is a native of Guayama, located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where he was born on January 27, 1941. The city is known as El Pueblo de Los Brujos (The Town of the Witches) in honor of a legendary pitcher for the Guayama baseball team nicknamed “Moncho El Brujo.” It is also where the most prolific salsa song composer, Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso, was born. Frankie is not only a son of that storied southern city but he’s also an internationally known and extraordinary sonero (salsa singer and improviser) who can easily interpret a bolero, pop ballad, mambo, guaguancó or son montuno. His emotional interpretation of romantic ballads and torrid boleros made him popular with female listeners.

Figueroa is distinguished by a certain nasal quality and an astonishing ability for rapid-fire versification one often hears in the best soneros. Frankie himself contends that Cuban crooner Benny (also spelled Beny) Moré (aka “El Bárbaro Del Ritmo”) was his biggest influence; “he was the greatest” Frankie would say when referring to Moré. He also admired the Puerto Rican bolerista Gilberto Monroig, as well as more versatile singers like Vitín Avilés, Ismael Rivera (a good friend) and Dominican singer Joseíto Mateo. Like Moré, they were all adept and accomplished in many styles and rhythms of Latin music from fast to slow. Figueroa was part of successful orchestras such as those of César Concepción, Willie Rosario, Kako (Francisco Ángel Bastar), Chucho Rodríguez, Memo Salamanca and Tito Puente, leaving a mark of very high quality on each leader’s output as he passed through. He also worked with Ray Terrace, Héctor Rivera, Joe Cotto and Johnny Pacheco (though he did not record with Pacheco); during the late 1960s he was often hired for substitutions or chorus work. In time, Figueroa also created his own outfit, Orquesta La Madre, which had a distinctive big band sound influenced by the bandleaders he worked for but with its own uncompromising brand of New York City salsa dura and old-school Cuban bolero.

-Pablo Yglesias

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