Cover comic strip by Izzy Sanabria for the album 'The Alegere All-Stars in "Lost & Found, Volume III" (1968) by the salsa band The Alegere All-Stars.

Izzy Sanabria is an American graphic designer of Puerto Rican descent. He is known for his active promotion of the musical genre salsa and often credited with coining the term, as well as popularizing it outside the Latino community. Sanabria never played music himself, but was a master of ceremonies during various concerts. He also designed album covers, provided liner notes and had his own magazine, Latin NY Magazine (1973-1985), reaching readers all over the world. The cover for the album 'The Alegere All-Stars in "Lost & Found, Volume III" (1968) is notable for featuring a comic strip, starring the members of The Alegere All-Stars. Because of his significant contributions to salsa music, Izzy Sanabria is nicknamed "Mr. Salsa".

Early life
Israel "Izzy" Sanabria was born in 1939 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. When he was young, his parents moved to the Bronx in New York City, where he spent most of his childhood. In Brooklyn Technical High School, future musician Johnny Pacheco was one of Sanabria's schoolmate. Sanabria studied art at the New York High School of Industrial Arts. After fulfilling his military service, he designed propaganda and communication posters for the U.S. military, and also worked on more general advertising art. During the Christmas period, he designed shop windows. As his main graphic influence, Sanabria ranked Salvador Dalí, whom he had the pleasure to meet once in adulthood. Other artistic influences were Peter Paul Rubens, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Georges Seurat.

Album covers
Sanabria often visited the night clubs and bars in The Bronx. He was master of ceremony in the Triton Club in New York. It was here that he met Johnny Pacheco again, who now enjoyed success as a Latin bandleader. Sanabria made an illustration which he proposed for Pacheco's upcoming album cover. Yet the musician told him his label had already hired another artist for that job. Sanabria then asked for an appointment with Al Santiago, head of Alegre Records, to discuss the matter. Santiago liked Sanabria's design so much that he accepted it as the cover for Paycheco's new album, 'Pacheco Y Su Charanga' (1961). It depicted a silhouette of Pacheco playing the flute, set to a yellow background. It became one of the best-selling albums in New York that year, while the cover was also printed on posters, hung in many Latino music bars.

In 1963, Johnny Pacheco and the lawyer Jerry Masucci began their own record label, Fania Records. Sanabria became their official art director. Throughout the decades, he designed many lively and colorful covers for their releases. At the time, most labels who released Latino music had no affinity with the genre or its demographic. By lack of any marketing studies, most album covers were generic images, usually nothing more than a photo of the band or an exotic landscape. Given that he was born in Puero Rico, Sanabria had a more direct feel with Hispanic people and their music. His covers managed to capture the music's appeal, which helped their sales among Hispanic and other Latino people, but also popularized the genre elsewhere in the world. His most infamous cover was 'Wanted By FBI/The Big Break - La Gran Fuga' (1970) for Willie Colon. It showed the musician in a mugshot, complete with finger prints next to the picture. The cover was so convincing that Colon's grandmother almost fainted, believing her grandson had been arrested. Even the F.B.I. tried to find out whether Colon was really on their "Most Wanted" list. In reality, Sanabria had just taken some old prison mug shots and finger prints and edited Willie's face on the body.

Sanabria provided liner notes, cover art, photography and art direction for various salsa and Latin musicians, including Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Bobby Cruz, Larry Harlow, Eddy Palmieri, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe, Ismael Miranda, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Adalberto Santiago, Bobby Valentín, The Lebron Brothers, Roberto Roena, Rubén Blades and Cheo Feliciano. He also designed various concert posters. His name is so associated with salsa that he is not only nicknamed "Mr. Salsa", but also credited with thinking up the term (which means "sauce" in Spanish). On his website, Sanabria refuted that claim, stating that the term was already in use, but that he only saw potential of the word salsa as a marketing tool to promote New York's Latin music.

The Alegere All-Stars in "Lost & Found, Volume III"
One album cover by Sanabria, 'The Alegere All-Stars in "Lost & Found, Volume III" (1968) is notable for featuring a comic strip on the front page. The story depicts Kako, a member of The Alegre All-Stars, falling asleep at the subway. A stereotypical thief steals a tape recording from him. Charlie Palmieri, the band's lead singer, tracks the thief's home down, beats him up and steals the record back, whereupon he and the band members celebrate in the streets. An urban legend claims the theft was based on a real-life anecdote, explaining why it took so long before this particular recording was released to the public. In reality this was just a marketing ploy. The recording did went missing for a while, but only because somebody had filed it at the wrong place.

Concert MC & TV host
Although Izzy Sanabria didn't play music himself, he often acted as a master of ceremonies during concerts. He was the official emcee of the Fania All-Stars and toured the entire world with them. His voice can be heard on the concert albums 'Live at the Cheetah' (1971) and 'Live at the Yankee Stadium' (1973). In 1973, Sanabria became the host of the music show 'Salsa' on New York City's Channel 41. Modelled after the popular music show 'Soul Train', it featured bands performing (or playbacking) in a TV studio, while the audience danced. With the main difference, of course, that 'Salsa' focused on Latino music.

Latin NY Magazine
In 1973, Sanabria also launched a niche magazine, Latin NY Magazine, which aimed at readers from the Latino/Hispanic community. It was published in English and focused on lifestyle, fashion, music and news in general. It sold well, even finding readers in Europe, Japan and Latin America. Latin NY Magazine ran until 1985. The magazine leant its name to The Latin NY Music Awards (nowadays the Salsa Awards). During its first edition in 1975, Sanabria was the show's host.

Recognition
On 5 April 2000, Izzy Sanabria was inducted in the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.


Cover artwork for 'The Alegre All Stars vol. 2: El Manicero' (1968).

Series and books by Izzy Sanabria you can order today:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.