Spirit Pilot Shares His Passion for Salsa
By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
While you may hear F/O Willie Morales (Spirit) on any given day broadcasting flight position over air traffic control airwaves, you’re just as likely to hear him singing salsa music on an FM radio. The Dallas, Tex.-based A320 pilot has been moonlighting for years as a professional singer and this past June produced his first-ever album, Desafiando la Gravedad (Defying Gravity).
He received some added acclaim this summer when flying a trip from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to San Juan, P.R. Morales, whose parents are originally from Puerto Rico, hadn’t flow as an airline pilot to the “Island of Enchantment” for more than 10 years. His captain, who had recently seen a video of the singer performing via a link that appeared in a company e-mail to employees, suggested Morales perform for the main cabin before they departed.
Standing outside the cockpit, Morales sang a version of Johnny Vegas’s “Sueño de un Borincano” (“A Puerto Rican’s Dream”). Cell-phone footage of the impromptu concert went viral and, in short order, he received thousands of messages from well-wishers, asking questions ranging from details about his music to how he became an airline pilot.
Morales spent his youth bouncing back and forth between Chicago, Ill., where he was born, and Añasco, P.R. His parents believed that raising their children in both locations would help them better master English and Spanish. However, the two settings had an unintended outcome, exposing Morales to what would become his two great passions—flying and singing.
Top left: F/O Willie Morales (Spirit) after an interview with WAPA, an independent Puerto Rican television station. Top Right: The cover of the album Desafi ando la Gravedad (Defying Gravity). Above: Morales performs with a band on the set of the Telemundo (Miami, Fla.) television show Un Nuevo Día.
“In those days, my dad’s favorite airline was Eastern,” noting that his family routinely traveled on the carrier. On one particular trip, Morales peered into the cockpit as he was boarding the airplane. “The captain invited me to sit in the left seat and gave me a pair of those plastic wings. I was fascinated. From that point on I knew aviation was the love of my life,” he said.
Morales pursued whatever jobs he could find to help pay for flying lessons and later became a flight instructor. The director of the flight school where he worked was good friends with the head of American Eagle operations in San Juan and was instrumental in helping Morales land his first airline flying job with the carrier. Morales later worked as a flight instructor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before getting hired at Spirit.
However, flying wasn’t Morales only love. Music runs in his family and his brother, Rudy, sang for several groups in the Chicago area. “I used to go to his practices and would sometimes sing backup or play percussion,” Morales recalled, adding that he also sang in his school’s chorus.
In 1976 when Morales’s father retired, the family moved back to Puerto Rico where salsa music is extremely popular. A combination of Latin musical genres that fuse Spanish canción and guitar with Afro-Cuban percussion and North American jazz, salsa means “sauce”—hinting at the spiciness common in many Latin dishes and how it translates to music. Morales met numerous musicians and sang with different local groups. He also attended a music school on the Caribbean island.
Last June, Morales released Desafiando la Gravedad, which he recorded in New York and Tampa, Fla., with musicians from New York, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Peru. The 12 songs are available on virtual platforms like iTunes, CDBaby, and Amazon, and the CD can also be purchased online.
Morales, who is flattered by all the recent attention, looks forward to continuing both careers. Living with his wife of more than 36 years in the Houston, Tex., area, he shared, “I love what I do and have a lot more to give.”
As this issue of Air Line Pilot goes to press, Morales is in talks to perform at “Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican Fest 2018,” at Houston’s Midtown Park on October 27, where tens of thousands are expected to attend.