Rubén Blades, Scholar-in-Residence, Addresses Music and Social Change

Rubén Blades, three-time Emmy-nominated actor, activist, lawyer, and politician from Panama, is the School’s first scholar-in-residence.

During his yearlong scholar-in-residence appointment, 17-time Grammy Award-winning musician Rubén Blades, has been meeting with the NYU community and exploring collaborations for fostering diversity and advancing social change through music. 

A cultural icon who is credited with one of the top-selling salsa records of all time, Siembra (with Willie Colón), Blades has chronicled the Latin American community’s experiences living through unjust social and economic conditions through his music. 

Last semester, Blades wowed the audience at a career retrospective at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Carlos Chirinos, director of NYU Steinhardt’s Music and Social Change Lab, interviewed Blades about his musical, artistic, and political career, including a five-year term as Panama’s Minister for Tourism and a run for the presidency of the Republic of Panama. (“We lost, but we got our ideas to the table,” Blades said.) 

Rubén Blades, Scholar-in-Residence, was interviewed by NYU President Andy Hamilton.

At a meeting at the Torch Club with NYU Steinhardt’s Faculty First Look scholars, Blades talked about the role of mentoring in his life. He credited his grandmother for instilling in him “a love for reading and an appreciation of arts and culture and social justice.”

The scholars also learned that growing up, Blades idolized Samuel Leibowitz, the lawyer who defended the Scottsboro Boys, and that Camus’ The Rebel impacted him so deeply that he could not read another book for two years. 

Blades ended the evening by reminding the audience that music transcends boundaries and cultural difference. 

Signing autographs at Skirball Center

“Music is important for everyone,” Blades said. “I believe in music, not just as entertainment, but as an emotional, spiritual, and therapeutic connection. It is always a way to connect.” 

Listen to Rubén Blades, Scholar-in-Residence, on the premier episode of Conversations with Andy Hamilton.