Represents the first half of the 20s Century ideal of the Puerto Rican professional musician. Rafael Hernández’s repertoire covered all of the popular forms of music in the Spanish-speaking Americas.
Rafael Hernández Marín was born in 1892 in the Tamarindo sector of the city of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He began his musical education in the Aguadilla band. In that era, there were no formal musical educational institutions on the island. This absence was filled by the municipal bands, whose directors, in exchange for financial support from the city councils, agreed to teach music lessons to children from poor or low-income families. José Ruellán Lequerica and Jesús Figueroa were young Rafael’s teacher. His musical education included learning to play several instruments: the cornet, violin, trombone, euphonium, guitar and piano. Photographs show Rafael, as a child, in José Ruellán’s band and later in the San Juan municipal band and a dance orchestra, both directed by Manuel Tizol, and as a cornet player in the Japanese Circus band, a group of three musicians.
Rafael Hernández’s fame began when he and 17 other Puerto Ricans were recruited for the Regiment 369 band, which was directed by James Reese Europe. The band of 40 musicians, of which 18 were Puerto Rican, went to France to perform in 1917. The band was responsible for introducing jazz to France in particular and Europe in general. After returning to the United States in 1919, Hernández began a long and intense period of artistic composition and performance. He was part of the Lucky Roberts Band, with which he made his first musical tour of the United States, worked as a musician at the Fausto Theater in Havana, Cuba, created the Trío Borinquen (1925) and the Conjunto Victoria (1930) and settled in Mexico in 1932.
Both his musical training and his international travels led him, as a musician, to span a wide and diverse variety of genres – from the danza of the 19th and 20th centuries to the local Puerto Rican genres, the African-American dance music such as ragtime, the two-step, the fox trot, and the popular commercial genres of Caribbean music.
His themes include everything from the Puerto Rican danza with songs such as María Victoria (1912) and Danza capricho, número 7 (1949), songs of patriotism and regional pride, such as the Puerto Rican Mi patria tiembla (1928), the boleros Lamento Borincano (1929) and Quisqueya, the Mexican folk song Que chula es Puebla, and popular commercial music such as the conga El Cumbanchero, the bolero Capullito de Alelí and the song Silencio.
By the 1950s, Rafael Hernández’s fame as a treasure of the Americas was well established. He died on December 11, 1965. Weeks earlier, the artistic class, the government and the television stations had made a special program in honor of his enormous work.
Published:April 13, 2012.
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