Appreciation: Ray “Gumbi” Salazar

20th Apr 2020

Ray “Gumbi” Salazar was a man of many talents: a beloved musician, a corrections officer, a community leader, a civil rights pioneer. Ever the optimistic, he believed that people could be moved to change and, as result, times could change so he spent his lifetime making both aspirations come true.

Salazar, 71, died Saturday. He was a member of the Chicanos Por La Causa governing board since 1988, serving as past chairman of the Executive Board. As an early leader of CPLC, the Latino music cultural icon was an esteemed member of the Board Veteranos, whose terms and guiding wisdom never expire.

“It is with great sadness that CPLC has lost such an invaluable member of CPLC’s immediate family,” said CPLC President & CEO David Adame. “We share in the Salazar family’s loss and Arizona’s loss of a fine gentleman and leader with such heart and soul. Ray Salazar’s positive outlook and many deeds will live on, of course, but today like many in the Latino community, we are grief-stricken by his passing.”

CPLC Board Chairman Tony Moya added: “A sad day indeed, losing a friend and a Veterano to the cause of CPLC. As a board of a nonprofit intent on change for the better for underserved communities, we were all enriched by working alongside ‘Gumbi’ for so many years. Arizona is a better place because of him.”

Salazar was born in the Golden Gate Settlement Barrio in South Phoenix, which was razed by eminent domain for the expansion of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in the 1970s and 1980s. He was raised in El Campito Barrio, south of Downtown Phoenix, along Buckeye Road just east of 7th Street.

Salazar began his musical career at age 5 as a dancer at the Calderon Ballroom in the early 1950s. An immediate sensation with talent beyond his years, he was affectionately nicknamed “El Rey de Mambo.” “I was the floor show,” Salazar recalled in a 2013 episode of “Horizonte” TV program about Latino trailblazers in music. He danced to the music of Chalio Dominguez, Perres Prado and La Sonora Santanera.

For more than six decades, Salazar moved people with his music as an accomplished vocalist and percussionist with such bands as Powerdrive, Latin Salsa & Company and, most recently, Breaking Point. He also was the leader of his own local bands including The Royal Lancers and the Latin Blues Society, which was the house band for the Riverside Ballroom.

In completing the full circle of his musical life steeped in Mexican culture, Salazar returned to his roots, celebrating the 100th birthday of longtime Mexican music bandleader Rafael “Chapito” Chavarria in 2014. At age 65, Salazar was the lead vocalist of a 10-piece band of Phoenix-area musicians who performed a special concert at the Musical Instrument Museum in honor of Chavarria.

For his day job, Salazar worked for the City of Phoenix for 10 years before joining the Arizona Department of Corrections, where he worked for 28 years before retiring in 2013 as a parole officer supervisor. Believing everyone deserves a second chance, Salazar said he enjoyed helping ex-offenders “stay motivated to improving their current (path) and to maintain a more productive life.” A longtime member of the Latinos Peace Officers Association, he also frequently presented at community forums in the prevention of gangs and drug associations with youth.

A strong proponent of education, Salazar graduated from Phoenix Union High School and attended Phoenix College, Maricopa Technical College and Rio Salado College, as well as Arizona State University, where he studied music as a major. From his early days at Phoenix Union, where student walkouts over discrimination and education inequities led to the formation of CPLC in 1969, Salazar never lost sight of the importance of education for the Latino and underserved communities. Education remains one of CPLC’s five mission pillars of impact: Education, Housing, Economic Development, Health & Human Services, and Advocacy.

In a joint CPLC statement on social media, Adame and Moya asked: “Please keep in your prayers the Salazar family and all families who have suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic. May your loved ones stay well and may we all find the collective strength to recover from this wicked virus.”

Salazar is survived by his wife of 40 years, Alice Navarro Salazar; three children, Raymond, Mark and Angela; and six grandchildren.

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