Distinguished cuatro player, composer, artisan and music teacher who dedicated most of his life to promoting traditional rural folk music and traditional Puerto Rican instruments. He also was an outstanding artisan who produced cuatros, the traditional Puerto Rican guitar. More than 2,000 students studied music under him.
He was born November 13, 1927 in the Galateo sector of the municipality of Toa Alta. His parents were Ramón Rivera Nieves, who was a farmer, and Secundina Morales Rolón. With his mother’s support, he began to play the cuatro by ear at five years of age. He went to elementary school in his home town but at 11 years of age he was forced to leave school to help support his family. He divided his time between helping his father in the fields and his mother in the commercial establishment where she worked, and where he also often played music.
He began to play at parties and wakes both in Toa Alta and in nearby towns and later joined the United States Army, where he entertained fellow troops with cuatro music, whenever possible.
Once he returned to the island in 1954, he worked as a professional musician and composer. With the support of Puerto Rican folk singer Florencio Morales Ramos, better known as Ramito, he was able to record his music. The first of his records was titled Sobre mis colinas. At the same time, he was becoming known on television and radio, where he performed as the host of various programs such as “Maratón” and “Radio Borinquen.” At the end of the 1950s, he traveled to New York, where he embarked on a musical tour with Ramito.
Over the length of his considerable professional career, he collaborated with a large number of Puerto Rican folk singers, such as Chuíto of Bayamón and Guzmán Rosario. He also wrote musical pieces, among which are the danzón titled Nélida and the décima Lo que Dios me ha dado. Some of his most outstanding performances are the danzas Amaris and A mi madre, the mazurkas Mamá Yeya,Providencia and Mi nieto, the danzones Rafaelito and Flores de Mayo, the waltzes Arpa de mis amores and Amanecer and the traditional Christmas song Quinto al aire.
Rivera received numerous awards for his dedication to Puerto Rican folk music and the cuatro. The Municipal Theater of Toa Alta was named for him and he was honored at the Guaynabo Fine Arts Center in an activity in 1998 called ¡A cuatro limpio!: Histórico tribunal a Maso Rivera.
The cuatro master died on February 4, 2001. The following year, the Puerto Rico Senate declared November 17 as “Puerto Rican cuatro and don Tomás ‘Maso’ Rivera Morales Day.”
Folleto informativo sobre Tomás “Maso” Rivera preparado por el Municipio Autónomo de Toa Alta.
Portal del Proyecto del cuatro puertorriqueño.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.
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