The Legacy of Izzy "Mr. Salsa" Sanabria

How the Puerto Rican visual artist revolutionized album covers

Israel “Izzy” Sanabria is a graphic designer who some say single-handedly transformed the visual style of Salsa. Born in 1939 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, the Sanabrias moved to New York City, where Izzy grew up in the Bronx. He attended the School of Visual Arts and began working as a designer at Alegre Records in 1961, designing covers for Kako y su Combo and Johnny Pacheco.

Rock n’ Roll wasn’t the only musical revolution happening in the 60s. In New York, Salsa was taking over and Izzy was right in the heart of the scene hanging out at the hottest clubs. When Pacheco founded his own label, Fania in 1964, Sanabria was recruited. His first project, designing their iconic retro logo.

From that point on, Izzy revolutionized the design of Latin and Salsa album covers. Influenced by the big, bold sounds of Salsa, Sanabria embued his album covers with bright, striking colors and shapes. Within each 12 inch square, his use of typography creates movement that mimics the gestures on the dance floor. They’re exciting to look at, preparing the listener for the as equally exciting music they’re about to hear. Besides Fania and Alegre, Izzy also designed for numerous other labels including Cotique, Cesta, Inca, and more.

Joe Quijano Y Su Conjunto Cachana, Do Their Own Thing (Hacen Su Cosa) released 1969 on Cesta Records. Photo by Paul Fenton. Design by Izzy Sanabria. 

Sanabria is playful in his relationship between photography and text. His flair for life can be seen in both the way he carries himself and in his designs. He became a figurehead in the Latin music scene, throwing parties, emceeing the Fania All-Stars live shows, and hosting Salsa, the genre’s version of Soul Train. In 1973 he became the editor of Latin NY Magazine and in 1978 GQ Magazine dubbed him “Mr. Salsa”.

According to LinkedIn, Izzy currently resides in Valrico, Florida, and describes himself as a “Multi-Media Artist, a Music & Cultural Historian, and, a VISIONARY!” I would agree.


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