Ernesto Lecuona

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Ernesto Lecuona y Casado (Spanish pronunciation: [eɾˈnesto leˈkwona]; August 7, 1896 – November 29, 1963) was a Cuban composer and pianist of worldwide fame. He composed over six hundred pieces, mostly in the Cuban vein, and was a pianist of exceptional skill. His father was Canarian and his mother was Cuban.
Lecuona was born in Guanabacoa, Havana, Cuba, Kingdom of Spain. There are inconsistencies surrounding his birthdate, with some sources indicating the year 1895, and others still giving the day as August 6. He started studying piano at the age of five, under his sister Ernestina Lecuona, a famed composer in her own right. As a child prodigy, he composed his first song at the age of 11. He later studied at the Peyrellade Conservatoire under Antonio Saavedra and the famous Joaquín Nin. Lecuona graduated from the National Conservatory of Havana with a Gold Medal for interpretation when he was sixteen. He performed outside of Cuba at the Aeolian Hall (New York) in 1916.
In 1918 he collaborated with Luis Casas Romero, Moisés Simons, Jaime Prats, Nilo Menéndez and Vicente Lanz in setting up a successful player piano music roll factory in Cuba producing Cuban music and also copies from masters made by QRS in the USA. The brand label was "Rollo Autógrafo".
He first traveled to Spain in 1924 on a concert tour with violinist Marta de la Torre; his successful piano recitals in 1927 and 1928 at the Salle Playel in Paris coincided with a rise in interest in Cuban music. His popularity brought him to concert halls in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Lima in South America, as well as Paris, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid, and London in Europe, followed by more engagements in New York.
María la O, Lecuona's zarzuela, premiered in Havana on March 1, 1930. He was a prolific composer of songs and music for stage and film. He scored some of the film music for The Cuban Love Song, Always in My Heart (film), and One More Tomorrow (film). The entire musical score of the film Carnival in Costa Rica was penned by Lecuona. His works consisted of zarzuela, Afro-Cuban and Cuban rhythms, suites and many songs which are still very famous. They include “Siboney” (Canto Siboney), “Malagueña” and “The Breeze And I” (Andalucía). In 1942, his great hit, “Always in my heart” (Siempre en mi Corazón) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song; however, it lost to “White Christmas”. Lecuona was a master of the symphonic form and conducted the Ernesto Lecuona Symphonic Orchestra, employing soloists including Cuban pianist and composer Carmelina Delfín. The Orchestra performed in the Cuban Liberation Day Concert at Carnegie Hall on October 10, 1943. The concert included the world premiere of Lecuona's Black Rhapsody. Lecuona gave help and the use of his name to the popular touring group, the Lecuona Cuban Boys, though he did not play as a member of the band. He did sometimes play piano solos as the first item on the bill.
In 1960, thoroughly unhappy with Castro's new régime, Lecuona moved to Tampa, Florida and lived on West Orient Street in West Tampa with his relative, singer Esperanza Chediak. Lecuona lived his final years in the US, but while traveling in the Canary Islands three years later, he died of a heart attack in the town of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on November 29, 1963, where he was trying to recuperate from a lung ailment. He was interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, but his will instructs that his remains be repatriated once the current régime runs its course.
A great deal of Lecuona's music was first introduced to mass American audiences by Desi Arnaz, a fellow Cuban and Lucille Ball's spouse.
Lecuona's talent for composition has influenced the Latin American world in a way quite similar to George Gershwin in the United States, in his case raising Cuban music to classical status.
Ernesto and Ernestina's cousin Margarita Lecuona was another accomplished musician and composer. She was the author of the song "Babalú", made popular in the Latin American world by Miguelito Valdés, and in the United States by Desi Arnaz (who, contrary to popular folklore, did not write the song).
Lecuona was included as a character in the novel The Island of Eternal Love, by Miami-based Cuban writer Daína Chaviano, together with other important names in Cuban music.