Juan Morel Campos is considered one of the most significant Puerto Rican Danza exponents in the island’s history. His successor, Domingo Cruz “Cocolía,” though less known, is equally important.
Campos was born in Ponce on May 16, 1857, to Manuel Araujo from the Dominican Republic and Juana de Dios Campos Collazo from Venezuela.
He began his studies at eight, under the watchful eye of Professor Antonio Egipciaco, and was the protegé of “The Father of the Danza,” Manuel Gregorio Tavarez. Morel Campos played the cello, flute, bombardino (bass trombone), euphonium (a three or 4-valve tenor-voice brass instrument resembling a tuba), and the organ.
In 1877, Morel Campos was the principal baritone player in the San Juan Battalion in Madrid, Spain. When he returned to Ponce in 1882, he organized the Fireman’s Band, which he conducted until his death. Also, he was a dance music conductor and the municipal orchestra’s founder, La Lira Ponceña.
In addition, he arranged operas and zarzuelas and toured South America as the director and conductor of the Compañía de Zarzuela Española Bernard y Arabella. In total, he composed approximately 500 works. Of those, about 300 were Danzas. Some of his best-known compositions include Felices Días (Happy Days), No Me Toques (Do Not Touch Me), Idilio (Idyll), and Maldito Amor (Damned Love).
The play Torbellino: A Story of Unrequited Love, written and directed by Adriana Pantoja, revolves around unrequited love. It tells the story of Juan Morel Campos, a teacher who falls in love with his disciple Mercedes Arias. The script recreates their love story, including how they conspired to meet secretly despite Mercedes’ father’s opposition and how their love eventually prevailed. Morel Campos’ granddaughter revealed that his sadness was due to his inability to study abroad despite being more renowned than many who did.
It’s worth noting that Campos made history when he passed his baton to Ana (Anita) Otero, the first woman to direct an orchestra in Puerto Rico. According to her grandnephew Robur Otero, “Juan Morel Campos gave her the baton in Ponce, and Julio Andino handed her the baton in San Juan. She also conducted insular bands in San Germán and Mayagüez.”
On April 26, 1896, while conducting a concert in Ponce, Juan Morel Campos suffered a massive stroke. He died on May 12, 1896, short of his 39th birthday. His wife, Secundina Beltrán Collazo, and five children, Olimpia, Eugenia, and Belén, survived him.
Although his life and career ended abruptly, his legacy survives through his extensive body of work. In large part due to the fact Morel Campos transcribed many of his compositions and made them available to the public.
Today, various institutions and schools bear his name. Also, his statue holds a place of honor in Ponce’s Plaza Las Delicias. In 2001, Morel Campos was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Also, in 1984, the Puerto Rican Government declared May 16 “Juan Morel Campos Day.”
Domingo Cruz “Cocolía” was an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, educator, and director. Though he lacked formal training, Cruz’s enthusiasm, positive attitude, and work ethic allowed him to obtain a wealth of skills and occupy a valuable place among Puerto Rico’s most illustrious musicians.
Cruz composed several works preserved in the General Archive of Puerto Rico, including the mazurka Lulú, which Ernesto Alonso published in Unpublished Scores of Puerto Rican Composers (Editorial ICP, 2015). Also, the Danza, Ritita, dedicated to the pianist from Ponce Sisila Arce, and the waltz Mujeres de fuego.
Cruz was born in Ponce on July 3, 1864. He stood out as an excellent bombardino player in Juan Morel Campos’ La Lira Ponceña Orchestra and the Ponce Firefighters Band. His prowess on the instrument earned him the moniker “King of the Euphonium.”
“Cocolía” was also a music teacher and director of the Firefighters’ Band, the Banda Municipal de Ponce. Upon the death of Juan Morel Campos, Cruz became the director of the Ponce Municipal Band. He directed it from 1896 until 1916.
Cocolia died in 1934 in the Province of Alicante, Spain. The city of Ponce recognized his work with a statue. For many years, Cocolia’s statue stood in front of the Instituto de Music Juan Morel Campos, which took over the space previously occupied by the downtown Ponce fire station next to Teatro La Perla. It currently stands at Plaza Las Delicias. Cocolia is also recognized at the Park for the Illustrious Ponce Citizens. Also, in Ponce, there is a park named after him at the intersection of Calle Intendente Ramirez, Calle Mayor, and Calle Tricoche streets.