For Rudy Pérez, Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame Is All About "the Unsung Heroes"

Rudy Pérez, along with Desmond Child, is proud to honor and preserve the history and culture of Latin music.
Rudy Pérez, along with Desmond Child, is proud to honor and preserve the history and culture of Latin music. Wikimedia Commons
Rudy Pérez, along with Desmond Child, is proud to honor and preserve the history and culture of Latin music. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Rudy Pérez, along with Desmond Child, is proud to honor and preserve the history and culture of Latin music.
Wikimedia Commons
Once in a while, a song comes to define a moment in your life. One track might remind of when you first fell in love; another might take you back to the first time you traveled alone or to a friend you spent time with years ago. These are the songs that become the soundtracks to our lives, the songs that tell our stories.

Before they become our stories, though, these songs have stories all their own, written by songwriters who craft and compose measure after measure of music that connects with us in ways that are deeply personal yet universal. They are the hidden masters, and far too often they go unrecognized for the magic they perform — especially in the world of Latin music, which serves as the score for so many lives in Miami.

Which is why the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame was formed. Founded by songwriting icons Rudy Pérez and Desmond Child, it seeks to immortalize the accomplishments of songwriters across the Latin world, from the Caribbean to South America to Spain. And this Thursday night, artists with careers that span much of the past century will come together at the James L. Knight Center for the sixth-annual La Musa Gala.

Pérez and Child made the perfect founding team for the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. Having produced some 70 albums and composed more than 1,000 songs, Pérez has worked with everyone from Luis Miguel to Beyoncé. In 2010, Billboard named him producer of the decade. Child, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, has a storied songwriting career that includes an eclectic mix of hits, from Aerosmith’s "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" to Ricky Martin’s "Livin’ La Vida Loca."

Pérez spent the better part of two decades working with the Songwriters Hall of Fame to organize a Latin songwriters hall before he found a partner in Child.

“It took about 18 years before I even got together with Desmond, who had the same passion I had for honoring Latinos and found out when he got inducted that only about two other Latinos had been inducted in 50 years,” Pérez explains. “Desmond went to the board of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York and he said, ‘Hey, guys, what’s going on here?’ And they said, ‘You know what? If you want to honor more Latinos, why don’t you and Rudy get together, because he’s been trying to put this Songwriters Hall of Fame together for Hispanics.’ And so we did.”

To ensure the Latin hall's credibility and legitimacy, one stipulation for songwriters to be considered for induction is that their first major hit debuted at least 20 years before their nomination.

Among this year’s inductees are Chucho Valdés, a Cuban composer, bandleader, and piano virtuoso who has won six Grammys and three Latin Grammys, and Ecuador’s Carlos Rubira Infante, who has penned more than 400 songs and is known for his traditional pasillo and pasacalle music. Past inductees include Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, and José Feliciano. The ceremony also features posthumous inductions, paying tribute to the musical giants who paved the way for generations.

“People that are in their 70s now, they go to our show and they cry when they see moments like that,” Pérez says, “because they can’t believe that on the same stage where you have the most current acts in the world right now, the hottest reggaeton stars, you have somebody like Steve Lawrence, you have somebody like Olga Maria honoring her dad. It’s beautiful that way. That’s what makes our show very unique, very different from other awards shows.”

The show also honors some relative newcomers through special awards. Cuban reggaeton band Gente de Zona, best known for the 2016 megahit "La Gozadera," will receive the Premio Triunfador. Miguel, Wisin, and Fonseca are all previous recipients of the award. Karol G, the Latin trap singer-songwriter from Colombia, will accept the Elena Casals La Musa Award.

This isn’t just a night for industry insiders, though. The show is as much concert as ceremony, with inductees and honorees performing alongside the Miami Symphony Orchestra and an all-star house backing band. The artists are also encouraged to work with the show producers — musicians such as Pérez and Child who have decades of experience composing and arranging — to tweak their songs and create something special for the event.

But as excited as Pérez gets about the show as a whole, the man is a songwriter at heart, and the opportunity to pay homage to the greats who have shaped the musical landscape of his life is what moves him most.

“That’s what it’s all about for me,” Pérez says, “all those writers that are going into the hall of fame, because it’s so deserved. For years, these guys have been the metal pillars inside the buildings. You take a look at the skyscrapers in New York and you see the beautiful outside of the building, but you don’t see the pillars and bars that are holding that building up. Those are the songwriters, the unsung heroes.”

Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame La Musa Awards.
 8 p.m. Thursday, October 18, at James L. Knight Center, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami; 305-416-5978; Tickets cost $38 to $107 via
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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.