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About the Project

Regarded as the King of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan is an artist/songwriter known for fusing Latin and Soul music to create a sound that, beginning in the 1960s, transcended the boundaries of race and culture.  Joe Bataan is himself a fusion: African-American, Filipino, and honorary Latino.


Bataan’s uniquely American story is about immigration, integration and assimilation.  Born to an African-American mother and a Filipino father Joe was raised in Spanish Harlem, a Latino neighborhood primarily made up of Puerto Ricans and Cubans.  Joe is not a Latino, but he easily  “passed” because he looked like everybody else in the neighborhood and no one questioned it until much later in his musical career.  


During his adolescent years in the 1950s, East Harlem streets were filled with music.  Doo-wop was at its prime and for the children of East Harlem music was the most accessible form of pleasure, more so than books.  There were no formal rehearsal studios – street tunnels and building roof tops and hallways were popular hangouts for kids to practice their songs.


Joe and his peers were encouraged to excel at sports or music as a way to break the cycle of poverty.  But music and sports were not enough for him.  He joined a street gang, becoming the leader of the Dragons. During his time as a gang member,  Joe was sent to prison for a stolen vehicle for five years where he learned to formally read music.


In 1967, Joe was released from jail.  This was during the Civil Rights era when prominent African-American leaders such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and militant groups like the Young Lords and the Black Panthers were fighting against discrimination.  The time was ripe for all types of expressions including the ‘Boogaloo’,  a musical fusion of Afro-Cuban beats with English lyrics breaking away from traditional Latin music. It was the Latino-American equivalent of punk rock music. 


At 72 Joe Bataan continues to improvise his music, style, and way of life.  "The King Of Latin Soul" (working title) is a documentary that will take us through  Joe Bataan's inspiring and transformative life story.  We’ll see how his influence on this enclave of New York City can be used to understand the broader concepts of intersectionality and why he is known as the King of Latin Soul.

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