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A Welder Melds
A Salsa of Musical Styles


Julio Negrón (sings with his band ...

Julio Negrón (with microphone) sings with his band during an Erie area festival.

The atmosphere in the UE Local 506 Hall in Erie, Pa. on the night of Aug. 29, 2000, was nearly as vibrant as the bright and powerful mural on the hall’s wall being celebrated that evening. This was the inauguration of A Woman’s Place: A Warrior in the Struggle for International Solidarity by Juana Alicia. The hall was packed with General Electric workers (members of UE Locals 506 and 618) and UE Convention delegates. The mood was electric.

Microphone in hand, a Local 506 member conveyed his own personal excitement. "I am very proud of my union," exclaimed Julio Negrón, singer in the band providing an array of Latino music. "And I am proud of my culture."

Negrón enjoyed his first opportunity to perform in his union hall that August night. He has worked in the Erie GE plant for 28 years as of Jan. 21.


As a teenager growing up in Trenton, N.J. in the 1960s, Julio Negrón came to appreciate a world of music that he would one day make his own. Trenton is far from Puerto Rico, his home for the first 12 years of his life, but the songs and rhythms of the Enchanted Isle reverberated in his family. His father loved to sing; so did his mother. "They were always singing," Negrón says. "My uncles played guitars."

Negrón remembers lots of parties in those Trenton years, lots of dancing and singing and the ringing guitars of relations. He loved the salsa music then growing in popularity for dances, and the vocalizing of trios.

Inevitably, he taught himself to play the guitar. "I would get up close to the people playing guitars, to see what they were doing," Negrón says.

In 1972, Negrón’s mother decided to return to Puerto Rico; "I decided to live in the States," he says. The younger Negrón moved to Erie to live with an uncle, a railroad worker. It was 1972, and the big GE plant was hiring. Negrón found a job there.

The huge facility and the work, too, took some getting used to. Previously Negrón had worked in small shops and construction. GE did not have a record of hiring minority workers in Erie — Negrón was very conscious of the isolated, small number of Spanish-speaking workers among the many thousands in the Erie workforce.


But there was one outstanding difference between Erie GE and small shops Negrón had worked in previously. "If the boss didn’t like you, you’d be out of there," he says. In the GE, he found a strong union. "They didn’t give me much hassle, the union was there," Negrón says. "The union’s backed me up 100 percent all these years."

Negrón continued to play guitar, contributing his talent to services at St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church. And 14 years ago, he pulled together a band. Negrón provides vocals in the 10-piece band, mostly a mixture of string and percussion instruments.

The band enjoys a busy schedule of festivals, dances, christenings, weddings and birthday parties from Cleveland, Ohio to Buffalo, N.Y., particularly from spring to fall. The band plays salsa, meringue, boleros and a variety of songs originating from the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. The band plays both in Erie’s Mexican school and Puerto Rican institutions — and draws audiences from immigrants from many nations. But not exclusively. "We don’t only play for Hispanics," Negrón says. "We play for weddings and birthday parties for people who have Spanish friends, or just like the music. It happens a lot."

Negron’s band gets lots of exposure during its appearance at festivals like Erie Days, where the Building Seven welder has been spotted by co-workers.


And the band gets frequent plugs from a local DJ — Julio Negrón! With a cousin, Negrón hosts a four-hour Latin music program every Saturday on the radio station at Mercyhurst College. The requests help keep Negrón on top of what the band’s audience wants to hear. (Salsa and meringue hits are the most popular.)

Negrón’s involvement with music is relaxing, and, he says with a laugh, "It keeps me out of trouble!" Between the band, the radio show and contributing music to church services, Negrón wouldn’t seem to have much spare time — but with a grandson who turned 12 on Jan. 11, the musical welder will be also coaching Little League! "I like to stay involved in the community," he says.

UE News - 01/01

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