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Julio Iglesias on the Importance of Being a Crossover Performer

The Spanish heartthrob took an unusual path to becoming the best-selling Latin artist in history

Julio Iglesias performs at Centro de Bellas Artes on September 30, 2016 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

GV Cruz/WireImage

En español | Latin music was born through the rhythms. That’s the most important part in the development of Latin music in the United States. Not the performers. Not me, or such-and-such musician. No one. It’s about the rhythm. I’m not part of the Latin influence that exists in the United States. What happens is that I’m from Spain, and even though I was born in Europe, I do have that Latino sentiment because it’s in my soul. I sing my ballads. But I was never a rhythmic singer, unfortunately.

I was never a natural musician. I was a bad singer, but I was good at sports. In fact, I’m a lawyer, and later played for Real Madrid. One day I had an accident, was gifted a guitar, and I wrote “La vida sigue igual” (“Life goes on the same”). It became a sort of anthem in my country. That song propelled my career a bit. Do you know what it’s like to be paralyzed in bed after playing such an important sport? I didn’t do it very well, but I played soccer. And that small, but grand frustration changed the course of my life—I started singing. I sang poorly, but I learned. I endured all that learning so I wouldn’t die inside with grief. That was what made me a singer and then an artist.

What was important was the crossover—meaning, for a Latino artist to sing in the United States 40 years ago, make an album, and become No. 1 in the U.S. for a while. I dared to come to the United States 40 years ago, and all of a sudden was lucky enough to cross paths with Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, the Beach Boys and, later, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder—all these wonderful people. That was a lucky moment, and wonderful for me, and for Latino and Spanish people who work in factories, for them to feel a little pride about a Latino Spanish artist performing and succeeding in the United States. — As told to Isabela Raygoza

At 75, the Spanish singer is the best-selling Latin artist in history, with over 250 million records sold in 14 languages. His interest in music started as a way to pass the time when—in 1962—he became semi-paralyzed for nearly two years after a car accident. In 1968 he won the top prize in a music festival with “La vida sigue igual,” and by 1969 he was already an international star. The father of eight —including the “King of Latin Pop” Enrique Iglesias— received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this year.

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