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Book Review: Puerto Rican Women from the Jazz Age, Stories of Success (AuthorHouse, 2019)

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Author, Educator BASILIO SERRANO is all too familiar with the plight of Puerto Rican artists whose contributions to early jazz are overlooked or forgotten. In 2012, he paid homage to the valve trombonist, composer, arranger, and Duke Ellington collaborator, Juan Tizol.

Three years later, he examined Puerto Rican bandleaders, instrumentalists, composers, arrangers, and vocalists who made significant contributions to jazz during its incipient period (1900-1939).

In his third and most ambitious book, Serrano focuses on Puerto Rican women who entered the jazz milieu during its early history. Also, he shines a light on their contributions to early jazz in the U.S. and abroad and dispels inaccurate generalizations and falsehoods.

Serrano became interested in women’s studies as a member of the faculty of Brooklyn College of the City of New York in the 1970s. As an instructor and the Deputy Chair of the Department of Puerto Rican Studies, he developed and introduced the syllabus, “Women in Puerto Rican Society.” After Brooklyn College, he joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Old Westbury, where he encountered the Feminist Press staff. The experience heightened and reinforced the importance of Women’s Studies.

Puerto Rican Women from the Jazz Age is organized into sections that feature brief histories of significant Puerto Rican women in music and the performing arts. Also, it includes biographical sketches of pioneering women in jazz and film.

Some of the women you will meet, include …

ANGELINA RIVERA (pictured above) – A classically trained violinist and a member of the early jazz group, The Southern Syncopated Orchestra, known for its diverse repertoire of light classics, popular songs, ragtime spirituals, and waltzes. Angelina was the first “woman of color” to record a violin solo in “Hot Jazz,” a term used to describe what was then identified as post Ragtime and pre-Swing music. The trumpeter Rex Stewart mentions Angelina in the book, Boy Meets Horn. As does Duke Ellington in the book, Music is My Mistress. 

                                              LUCY FABERY (Luz Garcia). A Puerto Rican singer recognized for her soulful, sensual voice and mastery of the style known as filin. Her jazzy interpretations are almost exclusively in Spanish and she chose to perform mostly for Spanish-speaking audiences. Fabery appeared in several films and recorded four albums. In a career that spanned fifty years, she performed in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, and Cuba. Also, she shared the stage with artists such as Benny Moré, Rosita Fornés, Celia Cruz, Pedro Vargas, Mario (Cantinflas) Moreno, Toña La Negra, and many more. Her moniker was “La Muneca de Chocolate” (“The Chocolate Doll”).

ELISA TAVÁREZ Y COLÓN is the daughter of Manuel Gregorio Távarez y Ropero, the “Father of the Danza.” She studied the classics under distinguished instructors in Puerto Rico, Spain, and the Royal Conservatory of Music. After winning first place in a competition, she performed for the Queen of Spain. Also, she performed numerous classical concerts in Puerto Rico and around the world. Elisa Távarez, Ana Otero, Amalia Paoli, Genoveva Arteaga, and Trina Padilla de Sanz were an impressive group of women who created institutions to provide music education for the youth regardless of gender or economic status. She died in San Juan in 1960.

Other women include Lolita Cordoba, Grace, Elsie and Judy Bayron, Diosa Costello, Olga Medolago Albani, Marquita Rivera, Blanca Castejon, Cecilia Callejo, Mapy Cortes and Olga San Juan among others.

How and why do such grievous omissions in women’s history exist? Some of the reasons include colonialism, racism, chauvinism, a male-dominated music industry, the language barrier, and the passage of time. Also, most of the existing literature is written and published in Spanish (the need for translation and bilingual publications has never been greater).

Lastly, Serrano introduces readers to several contemporary Puerto Rican artists, such as the pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger Brenda Hopkins Miranda, pianist, educator Amuni Nacer, and the singer Michelle Sotomayer.

Puerto Rican Women from the Jazz Age lays the groundwork (“curriculum”) for academics, historians, researchers, writers, and cultural institutions to expand on Serrano’s work and gives these Boricua Pioneras the recognition and respect they deserve.

PUERTO RICAN WOMEN FROM THE JAZZ AGE – STORIES OF SUCCESS IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM.

RECOMMENDED READING

Handy, Antoinette – The International Sweethearts of Rhythm – The Ladies Band from Piney Woods Country Life School (The Scarecrow Press, 1998).
Serrano, Basilio – Juan Tizol, His Caravan Through Life and American Culture (Xilibris, 2012)
Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz – 1900-1939- Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (Universe, 2015)

Photo: Southern Syncopated Orchestra. The Puerto Rican violinist, Angelina Rivera is seated in the front row, 5th seat, right to left. Her father, Anthony Rivera, and sister were also members of the SSS however they do not appear in this photo.

This article originally appeared on https://www.patreon.com/useru=30769119. For early and exclusive access to articles like this please visit my Patreon Page (Jazzdelapena2) and consider subscribing for as little as $5.00 per month (you can cancel the subscription anytime). The subscription supports the work and allows me to continue to provide you with free, high-quality content. Thank you.

© 2020 Tomas Pena
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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