Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BETANCOURT, Justo

(b 6 Dec. '40, Barrio La Marina, Matanzas, Cuba) Versatile sonero (improvising salsa vocalist). Sang with groups Cabeza de Perros at age eleven, Guaguanco Matancero in '56 and made recording debut '58 with Conjunto Club. Relocated to NYC and worked with Orlando Marin (appearing on his hit album Esta En Algo '67 on Fiesta), Johnny Pacheco, Sonora Matancera (appearing on their Presentando El Nuevo Sonido Fabuloso de La Sonora Matancera mid-'60s on Seeco), Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Alfonso Salines and others. Justo signed with Fania as a solo artist; following the release of El Explosivo '68 and El Que Sabe, Sabe! '69, his career took off with the Pacheco collaboration Los Dinamicos '71 and Pa Bravo Yo '72, the title track of the latter becoming his trademark. These were followed by Justo Betancourt '74, Lo Sabemos '75, Ubane '76 (with Mongo Santamaria), Recordando El Ayer '76 (with Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and Papo Lucca) and the compilation The Best Of/Lo Mejor de Justo Betancourt '77. Moved to Puerto Rico '72 and made Distinto y Diferente '77 and Presencia! '78 with his own 13-piece band Borincuba (the name representing the union of Puerto Ricans with a Cuban); however the success of a Cuban artist on the island, as well as his abrasive personality, created enemies. Justo handed lead vocals over to Borincuba's chorus singer Tito Rojas on the band's last album Con Amor '78; Rojas became a major salsa romántica star in the '90s with a string of huge hit albums (see his entry). Following the NYC-recorded Justo Betancourt '79, Sonora Matancera con Justo Betancourt '81 (a reunion with Sonora Matancera) and Leguleya No '82, and providing lead vocals to one track on Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. III '85 with Cruz and Tito Puente, Justo issued no further albums until Regresar '90 (aka El Bravo de Siempre '92) on his own RMQ label. He was among the soneros who participated in the critically acclaimed Descarga Boricua '93 on Tierrazo; guested on Descarga Boricua II: Abrázate '96; also performed and recorded with Fania All Stars, Larry Harlow (incl. Latin opera Hommy '73).