Ricky Martin

Latin-pop singer Ricky Martin arguably made the biggest splash in pop music in 1999. He had cut albums in his native Spanish before this year but was best known to U.S. record buyers as a member of the boy band Menudo.

Enrique Martin Morales was born Dec. 24, 1971, in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. He was raised by his accountant mother and psychologist father in San Juan, where he performed in school plays and sang in a children's choir. At age 6, Martin began appearing in TV ads.

After taking singing and acting lessons, Martin auditioned for Menudo, a Spanish-language vocal group. He became a member of the all-boy group in 1984 at age 12. Martin spent the next five years as Menudo's lead singer, and the band became a worldwide sensation.

In 1989 Martin left Menudo and returned to Puerto Rico to finish high school. He later relocated to New York, where he began to flirt with re-entering the entertainment world, but he decided to act on the Mexican stage for a year first.

With fellow ex-Menudo bandmate Robi Rosa, Martin co-wrote material for his first album, Ricky Martin (1991), which became a hit on Billboard's Latin chart. Two years later, Me Amaras made Martin a Latin American superstar.

Martin joined the soap opera "General Hospital" in 1994. His recurring part as a singing bartender gave him enough presence in the U.S. to snag a Broadway role, Marius, in the long-running hit "Les Miserables."

The harder-rocking A Medio Vivir (1995), featuring "Maria," also flirted with Latin styles such as flamenco and cumbia. Vuelve (1998) was Martin's final all-Spanish LP before the release of his mostly English-language commercial breakthrough, this year's Ricky Martin.

Martin's electrifying performance at the Grammy Awards whetted public appetite for the album. In April he also shook his hips like a young Elvis Presley during an all-star concert to benefit the Rainforest Foundation.

The six-times-platinum album's first single, "Livin' la Vida Loca," shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The LP also featured a duet with Madonna, "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazón)," and the singles "She's All I Ever Had" and "Shake Your Bon-Bon" (RealAudio excerpt). Other highlights included the Spanish version of his earlier smash "Maria" and "The Cup of Life," a.k.a. "La Copa de la Vida" — the 1998 World Cup theme.

"He's one of the ... warmest, funniest, most thoughtful artists I've ever worked with," said songwriter Desmond Child, who co-wrote seven songs for Martin. "And he makes you want to work harder, to work more. He's a fantastic motivator."

After touring the United States this year, Martin is scheduled to launch a world tour in 2000.

Other birthdays Friday: Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), 54; Jan Akkerman (Focus), 53; Ian Burden (Human League), 42; Mary Ramsey (10,000 Maniacs), 36; and Carla Bozulich (Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella), 34.