As a young man in Ponce, Puerto Rica, Héctor Lavoe (Marc Anthony
) is already steeped in music, having grown up with a father who plays guitar in local orchestras. While his father envisions him joining an orchestra in Ponce, Héctor dreams of a singing career in New York City. But Héctor's decision to pursue that dream causes a profound rift with his father, a rejection that will haunt Héctor in the years to come.
Arriving in New York in 1963, Héctor finds a thriving music scene in the city's Latino neighborhoods and soon becomes part of that scene as a singer with various bands. As Héctor's career blossoms, so does his personal life. Smitten virtually upon his arrival in New York by a beautiful, lively club-goer, Puchi (Jennifer Lopez), Héctor turns up uninvited at her birthday party.
Héctor signs a record contract and releases a succession of LPs that are the foundations of salsa. By the early 1970s, salsa has conquered the streets of New York and cities around the world, and Héctor Lavoe is its voice.
But success is not the uncomplicated boon the young Héctor might have envisioned, and the emotions so easly expressed in music are more difficult to voice in everyday existence.