On Jan. 9, the music community in Rochester lost beloved salsa singer Roberto Navarro, who passed away from natural causes at the age of 57.
Roberto Navarro, originally from Humacao, Puerto Rico, gained notoriety in the Latino community not only for his impactful salsa singing voice but also for his kindness, humility, and his dedication to Afro-Caribbean cultural arts.
"He was a humble man, willing to help anyone, be it a musician or any other person, he was always ready to help," said Ángel González, musical director of Grupo Calle Uno and one of Navarro’s closest friends.
For over 20 years, Grupo Calle Uno performed classic big band salsa music all around New York, including the Rochester International Jazz Festival and the annual Puerto Rican Festival. González said that Navarro would use his improvisation skills to make up poems and songs on the spot, purely to entertain other people.
In a statement on Facebook, the band wrote that Navarro will "forever be a part of the history of Grupo Calle Uno since he was there from the beginning. He leaves a void in the band, but more than that, he leaves a hole in our hearts and will be truly missed," alongside a video of the band practicing with Navarro.
"We will miss him. As long as God allows us, I will try to continue, but it will not be easy. Roberto the great Boria,” said González.
According to musician José Mora, Navarro was known as “Boria” as an ode to Puerto Rican poet, Juan Boria, known as the Negro Verse Pharaoh, because of his undying passion and dedication to Afro-Caribbean culture.
"We lost a great human being, musician and great friend Roberto Navarro. Although many of us knew him as the singer of one of the great local salsa orchestras, 'Calle Uno', I also want it to be known that he was one of our local authorities in the cultural art of Afro-Caribbean declamation... May you rest in peace, maestro," said Mora in a Facebook post in Spanish.
Ida Pérez, former president of the Ibero-American Action League, said that for Navarro, the community was one of the most important things, and he was happy to be involved in changes happening for the better, like the International Plaza on North Clinton Avenue.
"He was one of the first people to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of that,’ and he saw the vision of the plaza, and even when he didn’t have to perform, he would go to," said Pérez. “Roberto saw the value of new things and how important community was, and we would always say ‘Presente!’” said Pérez.
She fondly remembers how he would call the Poder 97.1 radio station every day to request songs, and described him as always being really kind, loving and caring.
Navarro is survived by his widow and partner of over 15 years, Margarita Santos, two children from a previous marriage and several grandchildren, some who are not biologically related, but he loved them, nonetheless, said Santos.
His family has started a Go Fund Me page to help cover funeral costs.
Natalia Rodríguez Medina is a bilingual reporter covering the Puerto Rican and Latino population for the Democrat and Chronicle in partnership with Report for America. Follow her on Twitter at @nataliarodmed or email her at email@example.com. You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Roberto Navarro, Rochester NY salsa singer, dies