Before Rudy Pérez became a chart-topping, world-renowned songwriter, he was a Cuban refugee and troubled teenager whose crimes landed him in a juvenile detention center in Florida. What transformed his life was returning to the faith of his childhood and keeping a promise he made to God many years ago.
As a Cuban refugee, Pérez arrived in the United States with only the clothes on his back. Now he's one of the most iconic names in Latin music, having over 300 No. 1 hit songs, including hits with Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, and Marc Anthony.
Once named "Producer of the Decade" by Billboard magazine, Pérez is also a co-founder of both the Latin Grammys and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. Now he’s sharing his life story in a memoir titled, The Latin Hitmaker: My Journey from Cuban Refugee to World-Renowned Record Producer and Songwriter. The book takes readers on a journey through Pérez’s immigrant experience, his run-ins with gangs, and his story of perseverance and success.
The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Pérez about his faith, his music career, and his memoir.
CP: Can you share your personal story of coming to faith in God?
Pérez: My personal story of coming to faith in God began when I was just a little kid being walked to school with my pastor-grandfather who would tell me Bible stories and get very upset with me and my siblings if we didn't want to go to church.
During my adolescent years, making the wrong turn in life and choosing bad decisions landed me in a juvenile detention center in Okeechobee, Florida. While there, I turned to the Lord who has since showered me with blessings and a wonderful family and successful career.
CP: What message are you hoping people take away after reading your story in The Latin Hitmaker?
Pérez: If you have a passion and someone says "No," you're talking to the wrong person. Never give up. Trust your passion for whatever it is that drives you. Trust in God; be humble, be grateful, and the rest is up to the effort that you put into your work.
I want people to walk away from reading the book inspired by my story and knowing they can also achieve their dreams.
CP: As a child, your family fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro's Communist regime following the Cuban Revolution. Will you talk a little bit about that experience?
Pérez: I believe that it was God's great plan for me and my family to escape Cuba and come to America. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to become successful in the greatest country in the world!
When you know the fear of coming to a new place and having nothing but the clothes on your back — you would never dream that someone like me, who was sleeping under the soundboard of a recording studio when I was starting out when I had nowhere to live — I could never have imagined that someone could actually care about my story. But great things came to me because of my faith in God.
CP: You found yourself in trouble as a teen and made a vow to God to turn away from a life of violence and crime. Can you share that conversation and how you stayed on the right path in a world filled with temptation?
Pérez: I was locked up after making a bunch of wrong decisions. I got on my knees and asked God for forgiveness. And I made a promise that if He allowed me to go back to my passion of music, I would never again turn to a life of crime. I want to let young people know that I could have gone in the wrong direction many times. But I decided to go in the right direction, and many great and wonderful things happened. As I always say, it was by the grace of God.
CP: You have gone on to create some of the biggest hits in Latin and pop music. How were you able to keep your Christian convictions in the entertainment industry where faith is a taboo subject?
Pérez: I never preached my faith to my colleagues or the stars that I worked with unless I felt that some of them were open and receptive to it. Or if God was speaking directly to my soul because he or she may have needed the Word of God to help them through something.
An example of that is when the legendary Sam Moore — of Sam & Dave — and I started talking about our faith while recording a pop album. We found out that we had so much in common. We both grew up in Miami and we both have church in common. After a very deep conversation, Sam confided in me that his dream was to leave behind an album of hymns and gospel songs dedicated to God, which we are in the process of recording now.
I felt that my greatest testament to the stars I worked with was how I lived my life and followed a godly path.
CP: You often talk about how God's grace kept you. What does that mean to you?
Pérez: It rescued me. My faith is very simple. It has always been childlike with the trust that the Bible is true and the Gospel is true. Faith has never been complicated for me. That was instilled in me by my grandfather first, and my dad who also became a minister.
As a young man, after having gotten mixed up in drugs and nearly dying, I returned to my faith in Christ and it has been a strong part of my life ever since.
CP: Looking back on your life and all that you've experienced, what do you think was the underlining purpose of it all?
Pérez: Since I was very young, I've felt that my life's purpose was to make beautiful music that could heal, inspire, bring joy, and motivate people around the world.
CP: What does the future have in store for you and what would you like to accomplish moving forward?
Pérez: I want to keep creating, writing, producing, arranging and performing. We know that the first thing we know about God in the Bible was that He created. So the fact that He allows me to take part in the creative process every day is just amazing to me.
To make something from nothing that touches millions of people is all I want. And I pray that God gives me health and time to do it all!