By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
He’s been an international crossover star for a quarter-century, but for Miami’s Jon Secada, success has always been about home.
“Everything I’m all about is based on the fact that it all started in South Florida. And that’s such a blessing to me,” says the singer-songwriter, who was born in Havana, raised in Hialeah and resides in South Miami.
And he continues to bring it all back home with An Evening With Jon Secada, headlining The Florida Classic fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Fort Lauderdale Nov. 16-18. The Nov. 17 concert at The Ritz-Carlton will showcase the span of his career — from his eponymous 1992 English-language debut to this year’s Top 20 Latin jazz CD, To Beny Moré With Love, an homage to the Cuban musical icon.
Now 56, Secada caught the ear of the Estefans in his 20s as a songwriter and background singer for Gloria during the late ’80s. Husband Emilio proceeded to take Secada under his wing, helping to launch his solo career with 1992’s Jon Secada. The album sold over 6 million copies worldwide, reached No. 15 on Billboard’s album chart and generated four Top 30 hits, including the No. 5 single, Just Another Day.
Just five months later, Secada’s career path took a fateful turn with the release of the CD’s Spanish-language version, Otro Dia Mas Sin Verte. It became the year’s No. 1 Latin album and garnered the singer the first of his two Grammy Awards, but more significantly established him as a bilingual crossover star who’s since released over 20 albums, performed around the world and collaborated with luminaries from JLo to Luciano.
The Florida Classic performance is the latest in a legacy of charitable endeavors, which includes his own Jon Secada Charities and for which the singer was honored as 2016’s Humanitarian of the Year by the Muhammad Ali Foundation. He also created the Jon Secada Music Scholarship at the University of Miami, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music and in 1986 a master’s in jazz vocal performance.
Today, with his wife of 20 years, Maritere, and their two children, he still lives near The U’s South Miami campus. In a recent conversation with City & Shore, Secada spoke about the trajectory of his career, his most recent albums and the intricacies of singing in two languages.
City & Shore So you’ve remained connected to this community your entire career?
Jon Secada Yes. I’m a product of South Florida since I came to the States [at age 12]. Everything I’ve been able to do in my life, my career, I’ve always been able to do living in Miami. And I lucked out in that I didn’t really have to go anywhere else. Of course it began in a period that there was so much stuff going on musically, and Miami has always been such a great city for that. I went to college down here. Everybody that I ended up connecting with — it’s the result of colleagues and people that I went to college with.
Was there something in particular that drew you to the Florida Classic benefit?
I’ve always lent a hand to anything that deals with charities, especially in South Florida. If I can be of any service, whether it’s through my talent or as a spokesperson — whichever avenue I can lend a hand, then I do.
What do you have planned for that show — something like your recent Soundstage special?
We’re gonna do a little bit of everything. Because of the Soundstage show, I’ve revamped my show to encompass that, celebrating 25 years that my first CD came out, our brand-new CD, DVD, the Soundstage special and putting it all together in performances as we go along.
You’ve basically been a crossover artist your entire career, haven’t you?
Yes, it’s something that I and my managers wanted to do from day 1. We tried to convince the record company to do it and they went along with it and it paid off. Thank God, that’s what I did. It started with translating songs into Spanish that I did in English. It was a great formula for a long time.
What is it like to have the success you’ve had in two languages?
It gave me the opportunity to have an international career … to travel and connect with your music in countries and places that otherwise you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. Even in the U.S. — and especially now in what the U.S. represents in terms of the mixes of cultures and how much it means to be a Latino in this country — the crossover world goes a long way.
How are you received by audiences when you sing in Spanish as opposed to English?
It’s the same, it’s just a different language, and that’s the beauty of it. You go from one language to the other and connect with audiences and travel the world — and even in English I’ve been able to travel in countries I never thought I would — Southeast Asia, Brazil. And with my Latin records, to be able to go to South America, Spain and Mexico, it’s been a tremendous trip for me.
Do you have a greater affinity for singing in one language over the other?
No, completely equal. I grew up that way here in South Florida. I just think in both languages, especially musically. I go back and forth as a Hispanic-American, and really it’s a credit to our community that we can do that — especially as an Afro-Cuban American that I can enjoy the blessing of being bilingual.
You have such a dynamic voice. To what do you owe your vocal chops?
I knew that I could sing early on, especially starting in junior high. I really didn’t do anything about it until high school. Then when I went to college, that’s when I really developed my vocal instrument. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today.
I understand your first performance was a Johnny Mathis song.
Yeah, for my high school music teacher. I think it was Misty.
What inspires you?
Man, I just love to do what I do. I’m so passionate about it. I’ve done a lot in my career and I’ve diversified, so it’s a little bit of everything. But at the end of the day, it all starts with the music that you record and the music that people know. And 25 years later, it’s a blessing to be able to say that it all started with a lot of songs that have been a part of who I am as a singer-songwriter.
Secada will also perform with Nestor Torres Nov. 11 at Boca Raton Resort & Club in a monthly series of intimate performances presented by Jazziz Magazine. For tickets and info,
A Charitable Tradition
Highlighted by a beach bash, fishing and golf tournaments and a lounge-style concert by Jon Secada, the 22nd annual Florida Classic continues the South Florida charitable tradition’s fusion of fundraising and fun-raising.
Set for Nov. 16-18, the event will grow the nearly $8.8 million raised in its first 21 years for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Presented by Ford, BB&T and Breakthru Beverage, the Fort Lauderdale event’s highlights include:
BeachBash, Nov. 16,
Golf tournament and awards lunch, Nov. 17,
“An Intimate Evening With Jon Secada,” Nov. 17,
Nov. 18, with awards reception at 15th Street Fisheries
For more info or to purchase tickets, please visit floridaclassic.eventscff.org or call 954-739-5006.