Home » Events News » Events » The Legacy of Rafael Hernandez

The Legacy of Rafael Hernandez

Sixty-five musicians, scholars, students, community members, fans and family members of el maestro Rafael Hernández attended Centro’s November 12 panel discussion at Hunter College to learn more about the legacy of this great Puerto Rican composer. Hernández, known for such masterpieces as Lamento Borincano and Preciosa, is considered one of the most important Puerto Rican musicians to emerge in the 20th century. He composed his Lamento Borincano, which he viewed as his favorite piece based on a patriotic theme in New York City, Linda Quisqueya, considered by many as the second national anthem of the Dominican Republic, and both the lyrics and music of more than 2,000 songs. City Lore folklorist Elena Martínez moderated the panel, which included Alejandro “Chalí” Hernández Pérez, the son of Rafael Hernández and director of the Sala Museo, Rafael Hernández and of extracurricular activities at Universidad Interamericana Recinto Metropolitano, both in Puerto Rico. Hernández Pérez presented photos of the family and spoke on his father’s meaningful musical career with great admiration, pride and love. And he spoke about his father as a family man, sharing a photo of him with his dad. They were both wearing a shirt and tie, a young boy emulating his father. He also reflected on his father’s classic song El Cumbanchero, which originated as a melody Hernández sang to his first-born child. He transformed it into a rumba from a lullaby, Hernández Pérez said, adding that his father composed this song during a happy time in his life when he was starting his family at the age of 50. Also on the panel was Carmen D. Lucca, performance poet-singer, president of the Association for Puerto Rican-Hispanic Culture, Inc., and artistic director of the annual Rafael Hernández’ Music Festival in New York City. She described Hernandez’s music as a ballad that needs to be told and performed. “We have the obligation to preserve the legacy of his poetry and his music,” she said. Also on the panel was Luis J. Santiago Sierra, the incoming commander of the 319th Army Band of the U.S. Army Reserves in Queens, and assistant director of admissions for Latin America at Berklee College of Music. He spoke about Hernández’s contribution to the military and to the world of jazz. Hernández was working as a musician in North Carolina when the United States entered WWI. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were given American citizenship and Hernández was recruited by bandleader James Reese Europe, along with 17other Puerto Rican musicians, to become a member of the military band of the 369th Infantry Regiment. Nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters, the 369th was celebrated for its bravery in the battlefield and for bringing jazz to continental Europe. Santiago Sierra credited Hernández and his unit not only with bringing jazz to Europe and entertaining troops but also for their significant contribution to the development of jazz in the United States. Thelma Ithier Sterling, award-winning soprano and a faculty member in the Humanities Department of Hostos Community College in the Bronx, spoke of Hernández the writer. His music style, she said, was similar to the art song movement in which composers use melody to interpret the poetry of songwriting. “His music as written is lyrical, melodic and poetic,” she said. Many singers of different genres ranging from classical to salsa love to perform his songs, she added. Moderator Martínez reflected on his time in New York. She spoke of Hernández’s beloved sister Victoria, a pioneering entrepreneur. She owned the Casa Hernández music shop in the Bronx at a time when few Puerto Rican women owned businesses. She sold the store in 1969 to musician and composer Mike Amadeo, who continues to run the store under the name Casa Amadeo in the Bronx. It still represents the history of the development of Latin music in New York City and plays an important role in the story of the stateside Puerto Rican experience. Casa Amadeo is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Highlights of the evening included a multimedia presentation featuring family photos and popular commercials that used Hernández’s music as well as the distribution of a booklet with a chronology of the composer’s life and career. Centro co-sponsored the event with the Society of the Educational Arts, Inc. (SEA) in conjunction with the Borimix Festival 2013 and City Lore.