The East Harlem–born Joe Bataan is a man of many reinventions. Over the course of his career, the self-taught musician, songwriter, and vocalist has built a reputation as a galvanizing bandleader, helped to popularize and expand the sound of boogaloo, and released an early hip-hop record, all before quitting the limelight of performing and recording. Nearly fifty years after his initial musical ascent, Bataan is enjoying a new wave of fame, owing in part to acclaimed documentary film We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo, and enthusiastic crate diggers the world over. On the occasion of his Midsummer Night Swing debut, the King of Latin Soul shares some of his influences and formative experiences in this rapid-fire Q&A.

Joe Bataan plays Midsummer Night Swing on Friday, July 7. Learn more or purchase tickets.


1. First instrument you played?
My first instrument was my voice because we couldn't afford anything that cost money! However, I attempted the trumpet to no avail and never did well. The piano I fell in love with. With the help of public school centers I was able to practice when allowed.

2. Top three influences, musical or otherwise?
Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers was my inspiration, Joe Louis was my courage, and Nat King Cole and Frankie Lymon were my musical idols.

3. Artists or albums you have on repeat?
Judy Garland Born in a Trunk, Nancy Wilson, and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers.

4. Last live performance you saw?
Smokey Robinson.

5. Favorite city to play?
New York, Lost Angeles, Tokyo, and London.

6. First paying gig?
The Tropicoro Club in the Bronx.

7. Favorite book?
The Bible.

8. Artist you'd most like to meet, past or present?
Sammy Davis Jr. and Fred Astaire.

9. Artist you'd most like to collaborate with?
Jennifer Lopez.

10. Latest project?
My book and new album, both called Streetology.

11. First live performance you remember seeing?
Jackie Wilson at the Apollo.

12. Top three pieces of advice for aspiring artists?
Spirit, health, and knowledge.

13. First time you realized you wanted to be a musician?
After seeing Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on The Ed Sullivan Show.