A Welder Melds
A Salsa of Musical Styles
By PETER GILMORE
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
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
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.
'THE UNION WAS THERE'
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
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
'I LIKE TO STAY INVOLVED'
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