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Rafael Hernández Marín Edit Profile


Rafael Hernández was considered the composer laureate of Puerto Rico. In his musical compositions he captured the ethos of the Puerto Rican character and society like few other composers have been able to do. Puerto Ricans consider many of his compositions alternate national anthems.


Hernández was born on October 24,1892, in the Tamarindo sector of Aguadilla, a coastal city located on the northwestern tip of the island.


Several of the members of his mother's family were well-known musicians. In a recent documentary about his life, his sister Victoria recalls that Hernández disliked music as a young boy. When their grandmother forced him to take music classes to learn the trombone, he cut his gums so that they would bleed and told her that he had been infected with tuberculosis, a common disease of the time, so she would allow him to stop taking classes.

Instead, when he was 12, she sent him to live at the house of José "Pepé" Lequerica, a music teacher. There he was forced to sleep in a small cot and share his room with a parrot that would not allow him to sleep at night.

Hernández obtained his elementary education in his native Aguadilla. A man without much formal instruction, he left school during his adolescence and started to work as a cigarmaker and as a private music teacher.

He attended the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico, where he obtained advanced training in harmony, music direction, and composition.


An adventurous soul, Hernández left Aguadilla and joined a traveling circus visiting different cities in Puerto Rico, playing the trombone for the circus orchestra. On reaching San Juan, the circus disbanded and Hernández found himself without a job. He approached several orchestras and found a job as first violin for the San Juan Symphonic Orchestra. He then moved to the San Juan Municipal Orchestra, housed at the Tapia Theater, where he played first trombone under the direction of Puerto Rican music master Juan Tizol. During this period of his professional career, Hernández often faceed the racist attitudes of his fellow Puerto Ricans, who questioned why a black Puerto Rican was playing first trombone and violin with these groups.

At the outbreak of Word War I, James Rhys, a famous African American bandleader and composer, went to Puerto Rico to recruit musicians for the U.S. military band. Hernández joined the band and traveled throughout Europe and the United States entertaining American troops. At the end of the war, Hernández returned to the United States, where he played with many different orchestras but eventually settled in New York and he started working in a screw-manufacturing plant. While working at the plant he lost a finger operating one of the machines and was awarded $500.00 as disability compensation. During this period in his career, he interacted with many Puerto Rican literary, artistic, and political personalities living in New York at the time, among them Luis Muñoz Marín and poet Luis Palés Matos. Ethnomusicologist Lise Waxer has identified Hernández's time in New York as having a profound influence on his political and social outlook. Many of the songs that he composed during the period were filled with politically suggestive lyrics that underscored the racial and music divide that the first wave of Puerto Rican immigrants were experiencing at the time.

In 1920, Hernández left New York and accepted a position in Cuba and as music director of the Fausto Theater Orchestra. He spent five years in Cuba but returned to New York and started several music groups. He organized the Trio Borinquen, recorded with Columbia Records, and eventually, along with his sister Victoria, who acted as their manager, organized the famous Conjunto Victoria. The group popularized many of Hernández's early compositions and made many important recordings while traveling throughout the United States, Latin America, and Puerto Rico.

By the mid 1930s Hernández moved to Mexico, where he lived for more than 15 years. He was initially hired to be a music director of XED, one of Mexico City's most important radio stations. He took advantage of his position at the station to organize duets of Mexican musicians that recorded, interpreted, and popularized his songs. He also used the flourishing Mexican movie industry to showcase his compositions, and even appeared in many of the popular movies of the time.

During his stay in Mexico, he wrote scores of songs, including "Que Chula es Puebla" (The Cute Puebla), a Mexican corrido (a festive and upbeat type of folk music) that became the hymn of that Mexican state. He also acted as an unofficial ambassador between Mexico and the island of Puerto Rico, welcoming many Puerto Rican students, political leaders, and artists who came to Mexico. His most significant achievements in Mexico were the writing of some of his best- known important compositions and the popularization of his music throughout Latin America, the United States, and the rest of the world.

Hernández returned to Puerto Rico to a hero's welcome on June 21,1947. Puerto Ricans recognized him as one of their most important composers and constantly honored him. He soon started work as a consultant for the government of Puerto Rico, helping to develop WIPR, the government educational broadcasting station. Hernández used his experience in the music field to plan and implement a solid music and entertainment programming schedule for the station.

It has been estimated that this notable composer wrote more than 2,000 melodies during his lifetime. His sister Victoria, a piano teacher and a well-known musician in her own right, recalls that for Hernández, the process of producing his compositions was intense. He became pensive and anxious and used to say that he had to take the song "out of Iris head." He sat at the piano and did not relax until he was able to interpret and record the lyrics and music.


  • Other Work

    • Among Hernández's most popular compositions are "Lamento Borincano" (Borincan Lament), "Venus," "Ausencia" (Absence), "Preciosa" (Most Beautiful), "Silencio" (Silence), Campanitas de Cristal" (Crystal Bells), Los Carreteros (Wagoneers), "Cachita," and "Buchipluma Na'ma." His song "Lamento Boricano" is considered almost as a second Puerto Rican national anthem.

      It depicts the tribulations of a farmer and peasant from the poor countryside who comes to the city filled with dreams of selling Iris produce to buy much-needed things for his family. Failing to sell what he had brought, he returns home empty-handed and broken-hearted. This song typifies and captures, more than any other cultural text, Puerto Rico's terrible economic conditions during the Depression and before the island's commonwealth status in 1952 (Fernández, Méndez-Méndez, and Cueto 1998). Because the song deals with the plight of Puerto Rican Jíbaros (peasants), Hernández became known as "El Jibarito" for the remainder of his artistic life.

      (Among Hernández's most popular compositions are "Lamento ...)


One of Hernandez's most important talents was his ability to express the popular elements of Puerto Rican society, such as political orientations and cultural expectations. He was an extraordinary recorder of Puerto Rican popular culture. His song "Cuchifritos" pokes fun at the cultural differences between Puerto Ricans, Americans, and other Latin American neighbors while underscoring Puerto Rican nationalism and their love for their culture and traditions.


  • Other Interests



Hernández married María Pérez, a Mexican.

María Pérez