Prolific Puerto Rican composer popularly known as “El Jibarito.” His songs include boleros, Puerto Rican danzas, plenas, and operettas, among others. He was also a director and musical consultant, as well as a composer of music for movies.
He was born in the town of Aguadilla on October 24, 1892, the son of Miguel ángel Rosa and María Hernández. While he worked as a child in a cigarette factory, he began studying music, with the support of his grandmother. When he was 12 years old, he began taking lessons from José Ruellán Lequenica and Jesús Figueroa. During that era, he learned to play various instruments, including the trombone, the violin, the guitar, the piano, the cornet and the euphonium.
He moved to the Puerta de Tierra sector on the outskirts of Old San Juan, where he lived with his three siblings, Victoria, Jesús and Rosa Elvira, whom he supported. He was a musician in the Municipal Orchestra, under the direction of Manuel Tizol. He wrote his first song in 1912, a danza called María y Victoria. Later, after World War I broke out, he enlisted in the United States Army, where he served as an orderly while also playing the trombone in his company’s military band. After completing his military service, he settled in New York City, where he came to know various Puerto Rican writers and musicians, such as Luis Palés Matos, Luis Llorens Torres and Pedro Flores.
He later moved to Cuba, where he stayed for four years. There, he directed the Fausto Theaterorchestra in Havana. In 1925, on Cuban Song Day, he presented his composition, Capullito de alelí, and won an honorable mention. When he returned to New York, he founded the Trío Borinquen in 1927 along with Manuel “Canario” Jiménez, the lead singer, Salvador Ithier, backup singer and lead guitar. Jiménez was replaced soon thereafter by the Dominican tenor Antonio Mesa. With the group’s success, some of his songs became popular, such as Siciliana, La muñeca and Me las pagarás. In 1929, he wrote one of his most famous songs, Lamento Borincano, a bolero with a social theme.
After dissolving the Trío Borinquen in 1931, he created the Grupo Hernández, which later became known as the Conjunto Victoria, in honor of his sister. It consisted mainly of Mengol Díaz, Rafael Rodríguez and Armando Carmona as lead singer, who was replaced in 1934 by Pedro Ortiz Dávila, also called “Davilita.” Other musicians of the stature of Monsanto and Chemín, among others, joined the group during recordings. After a brief stay in Mexico, he rejoined the group, which then consisted of Davilita, Paquito López Cruz and Rafael Rodríguez, now under the name Cuarteto Victoria.
In the early 1940s, he again moved to Mexico, where he lived for more than a decade. There, he refined his skills through graduate studies at the Mexico National Conservatory of Music, where he earned the degree of Master of Harmony, Composition, Counterpoint and Fugue. It was there that he wrote a large part of his musical repertoire, including the songs Preciosa, Campanitas de cristal, El cumbanchero and Perfume de gardenia.
In 1953, he settled in Puerto Rico with his family, where he toured various towns. Later, he worked as the orchestra director for the government radio station, WIPR, and as musical consultant for the station. He was honorary president of the Puerto Rico Association of Composers and Authors (1956 to 1959) and was one of the founders of the children’s baseball organization, the Little League.
He died on December 11, 1965, in San Juan, leaving behind a legacy of more than 3,000 songs, including Desvelo de amor (1937), Canción del alma (1942) and Canción de tus recuerdos (1949), among others.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Portal de la Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
López, Nilda. “Rafael Hernández”. En Rojo. 6 al 12 de noviembre de 2008: 19. Impress.
Salazar, Max. “Remembering Rafael Hernández Latin Beat Magazine. May 1997. Web.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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