Whether being a banker for the #18 ranked Fortune 500 company or a homeless man out in the streets, a music director in a mega church or a teacher in a poor inner city school, or even a missionary in Africa, this multifaceted man considers MUSIC to be his calling and purpose in life.
Based out of Tampa, Florida, this Latin Powerhouse didn’t set out to make music at first. Born the son of a preacher (his father, pastor Milton Villanueva), Leonardo began taking piano lessons at age 13 but hated it to the point of not practicing and skipping classes at the fine arts school he attended. Little did he know that this same “music” that he so disliked would serve him as a vehicle to reach thousands of people around the world.
At age 16, Leonardo moved from Puerto Rico to the United States where he immediately saw his grades fall from straight A's to F's because he did not understand English. Determined to succeed as an immigrant in America, the Land of Dreams, he worked hard and studied until late hours every night. Only 2 years later, he graduated Jefferson high school in a white gown as a National Honor Society member, was included in the "Who's Who in Music" around the U.S., and was honored in the Top 10 Latino graduates that year in Tampa Bay. All along he was helping with the music in a small church his father pastored in West Tampa. It was with that little Christian & Missionary Alliance congregation that Leonardo began leading worship and conducting choirs, something he would love doing for the rest of his life.
While in college, Villanueva began writing songs, recording, and touring. After graduating from the University of South Florida with a Music Education degree, Leonardo worked as a music teacher at Cambridge Academy and other Christian and public schools, all the while, he continued developing his worship leading and concert ministry in various churches around the U.S. and Latin America.
In 2006, Lamon Records released his self-titled album “Leonardo” (produced by legendary Dove award Latin producer, Isaac Hernandez) which won the Gospel Music Association DOVE AWARD for “Spanish Language Album of the Year.” This catapulted Leonardo to a national stage. Four songs from the recording landed the top spots in Latin Christian Radio in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2007, Leonardo is featured in Integrity Music’s “Gotta Have It” series and Max Lucado’s “3:16 The Numbers of Hope” CD (Spanish version by 3:16 Media). His “Paoli Award” nominated music video “Dejala Salir” begins to be aired regularly in GMA (Gospel Music Channel), CTN (Christian Television Network), and FOX.
In 2008, Villanueva is invited to be a presenter at the nationally televised Dove Award Live show at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN, where he presented TobyMac with the award for “Video of the Year.”
After a rather traumatic year of turmoil and challenges in his personal life that tested the very foundations of his faith, Leo decides to take a step back and "find himself" again. So on 2009, Leonardo begins a personal quest...a spiritual pilgrimage that takes him from his comfortable home to the blazing 120+ degree sub-Sahara desert in Mali, West Africa where he lived among the native Bambara people in a little village deep in the African bush with no potable water or electricity and then later to sleep on the streets of downtown Tampa as a homeless man, living among the poor, hungry, and unwanted of American society.
"Every turn in my life, whether failure or success, has taught me a rich, valuable lesson and has prepared me for what God wants to do through me in the next chapter of my life. You can bring hope to the hopeless much more effectively when you yourself have been at the bottom and have found hope. You will help the needy with much more urgency when you yourself have been hungry and desperate and have had nothing, not even a pillow or a bed to lay on. It is people who have been through the fire and have been broken themselves and put back together by the Lord who He uses to then help those who are broken and ultimately change the world and bring about a Revolution" says a humbled and determined Leonardo.
It is out of this journey of compassion that on 2010 Leonardo releases his first English CD titled “Hope"...10 honest and sometimes spectacular songs that bring a word of encouragement to the hopeless to let them know that God is with them, even in the "darkest valley". Nine of the songs were penned by Villanueva, including the rock anthems "Praise Him" and "Ready to Fly", the Latin powerhouse "Mi Hermano", and the sweet ballad for his daughter, "Masterpiece". He had to include, of course, his own rendition of Don Koch's classic hit "Mercy Said No", a song which he considers his own testimony and which he introduced first to the Latin music world with his Spanish version in his first CD. Villanueva also released his music video for the title track "Hope is Coming to You", which he dedicated to our U.S. Troops and which has become especially beloved by military wives whose husbands have been deployed oversees.
Leonardo serves as music director at First Methodist Church of Lutz and just launched his new record label, Vsound Records. He's is married to his beautiful wife Doreen and is father to Melody Joy and twin boys, Brent and Little Leo. Look for Leonardo Villanueva's upcoming projects which include brand new recordings in English and Spanish and a series of HOPE shows which are mega worship concerts featuring multi-talented artists and a live band. These concerts will also serve as a Talent Search for new undiscovered artists and will include "How to" workshops for young artists in our communities and churches.
For more information about Leonardo, his life and music, including videos and photos, please visit our website: www.LeonardoVillanueva.com