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Lin-Manuel Miranda On Learning From Ruben Blades

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs in his Tony-winning musical, <em>In the Heights, </em>in 2008 in New York City.
Steven Henry
Getty Images
Lin-Manuel Miranda performs in his Tony-winning musical, In the Heights, in 2008 in New York City.

All summer, All Things Considered has been digging into Mom and Dad's record collection, asking listeners and guests to name one song that inspired them, changed them or taught them something about their parents.

Lyricist, composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Tony Award for Best Score for his Broadway musical In the Heights when he was just 28. This summer, he's back on Broadway: He wrote the music and lyrics for Bring It On: The Musical, which opened Wednesday.

Miranda says his appreciation for stories told in song began at a young age, when he would dance to the records his parents played at parties. Among their favorites was Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades, whose song "El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andres," Miranda says, haunts him to this day.

"This is an incredibly danceable song ... but the subject matter is incredible," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "The title is 'Father Antonio and His Altar Boy Andres,' and it's almost like a [Gabriel] García Márquez short story.

"It's about this priest who comes from Spain to preach in Latin America and the altar boy [who is] sort of disinterested in religion. He just does it because it's one of the things you have to do when you're a kid. And they get murdered over the course of the song."

Miranda says he didn't notice how dark Blades' song was at first — because the melody was so catchy, he listened to it again and again. Eventually, he says, he figured out what a powerful trick Blades had pulled off.

"It's really heavy, but you would never know that," Miranda says. "As you listen to the song, you realize it's church bells, it's mourning bells. It's really an incredibly complex short story based around a very simple hook."

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