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The great Puerto Rican cuatristas, lost and lamented...
Great Cuatro Masters of the Past
See here a listing of past masters between 1850 and 1925

The Ancients

Eusebio González

El Indio de Sabana Grande [The Indian from Sabana Grande]
(approx. 1850-1925)

Eusebio González Ocasio was recognized as a great cuatrista of his times, native of the Indiera Fria neighborhood of Sábana Grande. The photo at left was taken in 1898, offering evidence that the ten-string cuatro was being played during the nineteenth century.

Joaquín Rivera
El Zurdo de Isabela [Isabela Lefty]
(1882-1925)

According to the great Maestros Ladi and Efraín Ronda (see both below), Joaquín Rivera Gandía was the best cuatro player of his times in Puerto Rico. A number of his New York City recordings on the 10-string cuatro with the Estrellas de Borinquen survive.

See our page dedicated to the Zurdo de Isabela here.

Listen to Joaquín Rivera playing his ten-string cuatro in a trio with the mandolin of José López Rivera and the violarina (fretted violin) of Felipe Rodriguez in Elenita

  Jesús Osorio López Maestro Jesús
[1874-1954]

The folklorist Francisco López Cruz described Jesús Osorio as "the best cuatrista that Puerto Rico has produced." During the first years of the 20th century, Osorio introduced the cuatro to the discipline of the solfeggio and was the first in naming the strings of the cuatro according to their proper musical notes.
 

  Pedro Hilario
(1880-1914)

Renown cuatrista from the Yauco region, one of the greatest on the four and eight string cuatros.

 

Confesor Juarbe

Confesor Juarbe appears often in the praises of the great cuatro players of today. He was teacher to the great Sarrail Archilla.

Maestro Ladí's generation
Heriberto Torres El Mago del Cuatro [the magician of the cuatro]
(1894-1931)

The great self-taught cuatrista plays for the Yauco Philharmonic Orchestra at age 25. At 32 años he moves to New York City where he learns to compose music. Torres was considered the best cuatrista of his time, a master of the four and eight-string cuatro. The doubling of the cuatro's strings is incorrectly attributed to him, but his achievement were legion nonetheless.

See our Heriberto Torres page here.

Norberto Cales
(1888-1979)

Norberto Cales Martínez was one of the supreme exponents of the eight-string cuatro, a member of the venerated fraternity of Southern custristas that included Heriberto Torres, Pedro Hilario and later, Tuto Feliciano.

  Hear Norberto Cales & the Yauco Philharmonic Orchestra in an interpretation of the danza, Sara

Visit our Norberto Cales page here.

Eladio Maldonado
Yayito

Yayito Maldonado was one of the most distinguished performers of the New York musical scene during the decades of 1920 and 1930. He was well known equally for his skills on the cuatro, guitar and the tres. During his career he is featured in many groups, including the Trio Boricua, Cuarteto Machín, Quinteto La Plata, Sexteto de Pedro Flores, Canario y su Grupo, and thel Grupo Antilla.

Listen to Yayito playing an early four-gut-string cuatro in the Christmas tune, Aguinaldo de Navidad 

Yayito with Canario y su Grupo: Al Romper la Aurora  (Antonio & David Morales collection)

Now listen to Yayito playing an early cuatro with the Trio Boricua in Al Llegar a Machuelito 

Rafael Sánchez
Fello

Cuatrista from the Barrio Abras of Corozal. The Corozal historian Antonio Moreno tells us that the great guitarist and folklorist Paquito Lopez Cruz of Naranjito received his first music lessons with him. He also says that the great Maestro Ladí would visit him from Vega Alta, like other cuatristas from other regions, to hear him play his rustic cuatro. He never wanted to change his cuatro, even when a new one was given to him. He never recorded or even left his town of Corozal. His son, on the other hand, was the famed Paquito Sanchez, first guitar of the Cuarteto Mayarí when it began, who later was integrated into the Cuarteto Marcan in New York, and then later formed the Sexteto La Plata." He died of tuberculosis in 1940. 

Notes by Dr. Mike Fucile of Corozal

 

Juan Hilario

Cuatrista from the Southern region of the Island. Hilario played the early four-string cuatro. He was one of the great four and eight-string cuatristas from Yauco, a group that includes his father Pedro Hilario, Norberto Cales, Heriberto Torres, and Tuto Feliciano.

Juan Coto

He was a cuatristas in the Ladí and don Felo's Grupo Aurora during the 1930s. Later he becomes the first cuatrista (of a long list to follow) to join Ladi's in Ladí's new group, Industrias Nativas and is the cuatrista later replaced by Sarriel Archilla. In the photo at left we see Juan Coto when he performed with Titi Amadeo's group Rosas de Oro during the 1930s.

 

  Blas Laguna

A pioneering cuatrista who recorded with Rafael Hernández in New York. He has been recognized as the first cuatrista to introduce the cuatro into Jazz music. Composer of "Confesion", which was sung by the great singer, Francisco Quiñones «El Paisa».
 

  Rafael Medina Fife

Named by the folklorist Heriberto Torres Vázquez as "one of the most gifted of the Puerto Rican players of the cuatro that came from the center of the Island." The great cuatrista Roque Navarro (see below) told us: "The one who inspired me the most was from my home town, and died about twenty years ago [circa 1956]. That man who played the cuatro was fifty years ahead of his time. That man was out of his world playing the cuatro. And Norberto [Cales] knew him too. He was nicknamed Fife. He was called Rafael Medina. He was a shoemaker. I'd go to hear him and watch how he'd move his fingers. That's how I learned--watching him. He was my spiritual maestro.."
 

Efraín Ronda
(1899-2003)

We are preparing a page dedicated to Efraín Ronda here.

Ladislao Martínez Maestro Ladí
(1898-1979)

Maestro Ladí was arguably the musician who made the greatest impact on the cuatro and its music during the twentieth century. He rescued and renewed the 19th century traditional forms on the cuatro. He created an enormous treasury of music in both the traditional and contemporary styles, as well as a new way to hear and play the cuatro. He adapted music from other lands to the cuatro, but each time giving it distinctly Puerto Rican feel. Many of the great older players of today consider him to have supplied the foundations for their playing styles.

Visit our Maestro Ladí page here.

Don Pini plays his own composition, Retorno Al Viví, in a home recording. (courtesy of Ray Vázquez)

Ray Vazquez and Polo Ocasio play de familiar Christmas piece written by don Pinin,
De Lejanas Tierras

Cristino Maldonado Don Pinín
(1893- ?)

One of Puerto Rico's best cuatristas, who was famous during the nineteen thirties. Cristino Maldonado Muriel was born in the barrio Yeguada of Vega Baja. At an early age, he was given a cuatro made by his uncle, which his father forbade him from playing saying that it was a waste of his time. At the age of eight, his mother died and his father left, so he had to become responsible for his family. He worked as a sugar cane cutter and played the cuatro to make money. By the age of 15 he had developed his own playing style and thus livened up many local dances. Later he moved to Utuado where his father had a business. There he married his second wife Urania Sigurani de Maldonado and brought into the world seven children. Utuado came to be his home for many years and was so fond of it that many of his compositions included the name of his town, such as A Utuado Todo Mi Amor [To Utuado with all my love]. Don Pini wrote a lot of pieces and did not limit himself to traditional music. Among his famous pieces we find the Christmas favorite, De Lejanas Tierras, and Retorno al Vivi, Recuerdos de Lares, A Mis Amigos, Desesperación, and many others.

Revista del Instituto del Cuatro Puertorriqueño, No. 11. 1978, written by José Enrique Ayoroa Santaliz

  Juan Santana

Cuatrista and guitarist of Bayamón that accompanied Sarriel Archilla during the early years of his career.

  Prudencio Meléndez El Aprendiz

Another highly-regarded cuatrista of Bayamón, named by Sarraíl Archilla as "the best of his time."

"Ladí's disciples"--the post-Ladi generation
Sarraíl Archilla
(1916-1995)

Archilla and Ladí play the cuatro as a duo for the first time on the radio with Ladí's Conjunto Industrias Nativas beginnin in 1936, establishing a new way to hear the cuatro. The play together, Sarrail playing first and Ladí playing second cuatro, until Ladí's death in 1979. The polished and sophisticated sound that they cultivate together raise the cuatro from its rustic ambiance and to a higher plane which is now called Puerto Rican "classic music." After Ladí's death, Archilla keeps the Conjunto Típico Ladí alive playing as a duo with Modesto Nieves.

Visit our Sarrail Archilla page here.

 Guillermo Toro "Yomo" (1933-2012)

"I was the first to bring the cuatro into Salsa music and I've had the opportunity to travel the world around playing the cuatro: I've been in Japan, in Europe, [in Africa] and I've been to these places repeatedly, and these countries already know Yomo Toro and what I've carried in my hands is the cuatro. I haven't taken a guitar, or an electrico guitar, or a requinto, none of those things. I carry the Puerto Rican cuatro because you've got to honor Puerto Rico and the national instrumento of Enchanted Island Puerto Rico is the cuatro..."

Our page dedicated to Yomo can be found here

Neri Orta (1920-2012)

All those who knew the great master Neri Orta concur that other than his mentor,  Ladislao Martínez, no one in the world of the cuatro him in regards to ability, knowledge, experience, art and his commitment to the music and to the national instrument. Our page dedicated to Neri Orta can be found here.

Francisco Ortiz Piñeiro Panchón, El Guayabo
(1919-1963)

Probably few Puerto Ricans have heard of Francisco Ortiz, one of the most exciting and distinctive cuatristas in our musical history. He backed some of the greatest musicians and singers of his times. His style has profoundly influenced some of today´s most notable players, such as Modesto Nieves and Edwin Colòn Zayas. He was born in 1919 in the Barrio Jagua Sabana of Ciales, Puerto Rico. At seven years of age he begins to execute his first notes on the cuatro. One of his first teacher was the cialeño Manolo Otero.
   During his musical trajectory, Panchón compuso composed more than thirty instrumental pieces in the traditional styles. When he played the "bombardino" part of danzas, he showed off his cuatro in a unique and masterful manner. Samples of his work survive in the several recording of the Trío Cialeño with Chuíto el de Bayamón and in several Puerto Rican films.

                                                                  See our Panchón Ortiz page here



See Pascual Melendez
on YouTube
here

Pascual Meléndez
(1922-1990)

A renown disciple and accompanist to Maestro Ladi. He was born in Manatí but moves to Morovis at an early age. There he begins his relationship with his instrument and develops his musical ear. At twenty he heads towards San Juan, where he begins as a worker in a button factory. He organizes his first group, known as the conjunto Orión, along with Pepe Rodríguez. As Pascual became a maste of his instrument and its music, he joins musicians of the order of Juan Peña, Jaime Peña and Chin Peña, and together they organize the group, Melodías Nativas. When Pascual mastered the cuatro to perfection, he meets Maestro Ladí, Iluminado Ayala and don Felipe Goyco (don Felo), and they form the conjunto Industrias Nativas, which brought glory to our music. En 1971 he travels to France, England, Spain and other European capitals accompanying the group Areyto and thel Ballet de Tony D´Astro.
Redacted from a eulogy written in 1990 by Dr. Miguel A. Arroyo

Juan Peña

We've dedicated a special page for Juan Peña, the great cuatrista from Morovis who accompanied the great troubadours Ramito, Luisito and Moralito

Roque Navarro
(1913-2002)

The great cuatrista Roque Navarro played the cuatro to perfection, and during his time was called "the best cuatrista of Puerto Rico." He also acquired prestige for his cuatro-making, receiving during his career numerous prizes from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the Puerto Rican Development Agency--not only for his playing, but also for his cuatro making. He authored many wonderful pieces that were never published such as "Siete Rosas y un Capullo" [Seven Roses and a Rosebud].

Visit our Roque Navarro page

Tomás Rivera Maso
(1929-2001)

Maso was a supreme culture icon, perhaps the best known and best loved of all the Puerto Rican cuatristas. Better known for his versatility, humor and comic exploits, he left for posterity a marvelous legacy of original compositions composed in the traditional style, which next to Ladís, make up the lion's share of today's cuatro repertory.

Visit our Maso Rivera page here.

Agustín Feliciano Tuto
(1926-2005)

Yauco-native Tuto Feliciano was, in our opinion, on of the best Puerto Rican cuatro players of modern times, at the same technical level as Ladí, Nieves Quintero, Neri Orta, Francisco Ortíz Piñeiro and Yomo Toro. He was a masterful tres player besides, a skill he developed from his early days. He backed the legendary Ramito for many years. He spent his last years as a resident of New Jersey, performing on television and on recordings. Just before his death he allowed us several interviews and a treasury of private photographs, some of which we've included on his own webpage.

Visit our Tuto Feliciano page here.

Pedro Padilla

A native of the town of Hatillo, Pedro Padilla first became known playing on the radio program "Atardecer Jíbaro,"[Jíbaro Twilight"] which came out of Arecibo radio station WNIK during the fifties. From there he propelled a long and triumphant career as an outstanding professional cuatro player. Padilla accompanied major Puerto Rican traditional singers such as German Rosario, El Indio de Bayamon and Juaniquillo, among others. He currently has an enthusiastic following on the United States West Coast.

List to Pedro Padilla playing a difficult Heriberto Torres composition, a fox trot called El Vigoroso. (Courtesy David Morales collection).

Goyo Salas
A cuatrista from Ponce that worked as a cuatrista and tresista in numerous groups from the Southern region of the Island, such as the Grupo Campesino of the great plena singer Toñín Romero; in 1949 with the great troubadour Arturo Silvagnoli and his group Aires de Borinquen; and in 1957 with the Ponce group Trio Primavera, with whom he recorded several recordings on the Casa Greco label. Goyo Salas also appeared on radio, playing during the fifties in the famous program, Fiesta en el Batey.

 Juan González Papi



Hear Nicanor Zayas play here

Nicanor Zayas
(1910-2009)

Even though Nicanor Zayas Berrios never recorded commercially, he is considered one of the most respected expert cuatrista of our times. Zayas was one of the first cuatristas that took the cuatro out of the jíbaro music sphere, opening its repertory to world and pop music of his day. His musical tastes were broad and all-encompassing: it included South American, North American and Mexican music--even movie tunes. His friend, the cuatrista Ray Vazquez told us of Zayas:  "A living legend at 98 years of age, he was very influential to cuatro players of the mountainous regions of central Puerto Rico (Ciales- his native town, Morovis, Orocovis, Barranquitas, etc.). I would quickly reference him any day I am asked to produce cuatro music that sounds “authentically Puerto Rican”. His rapid triplet scales and punchy right hand execution is a very idiomatic style which I have incorporated into my “jíbaro-style” interpretations, which is also a trademark of Francisco”Pancho” Ortíz Piñeiro, his counterpart in the Musica Jíbara style (Don Nicanor leaned more toward instrumental and popular tunes). He has shared with me a numerous amount of his compositions and advice, and I am honored by his friendship, as well as that of his beautiful family."

  Contemporary artists who have passed away
Efaín Vidal
(1946-2009)
A biography of the great cuatro master Efraín Vidal can be found here, and his own presentation of the various Puerto Rican seises can be found here.

Edgardo Miranda
(1952 -2009)
A truly excellent cuatro and guitar player who was also a skilled composer and arranger. He traveled through Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, the Americas and the world, with great Jazz artists as well as traditional and pop musicians. He also appeared on television, and on Broadway. As a founding member of the seminal s Pleneros de la 21, Edgardo was a key figure in the originality, development and popularity of the group. Edgardo Miranda was doubtlessless one of the best Latino jazz guitarists and one of the most innovate artists on the Puerto Rican cuatro. His untimely departure represents a great loss to Puerto Rican music and to his companions of the Pleneros de la 21, who he played with since the group's inception more than 25 years ago.
                                                         
Translated from notes from www.fondaboricua.com

   

 

Cuatristas playing between 1910 – 1925         Return

Lista cortesía Efraín Ronda

Folio 1
1. Felipe “Pipe” Maldonado, Yauco
2. Rufino Román, Adjuntas
3. Juan Hilario, Yauco
4. Pedro Hilario (Hijo), Yauco
5. Heriberto Torres, Guayanilla
6. Norberto Cales, Yauco, (1888-1974)
7. Ramón Pi, San Germán (hermanos: Felipe, Pedro)
8. Juan Horta, Mayaguez, n.1870
9. Sandulito Hernandez, Cabo Rojo
10.Nicomedes Rivera, San Germán
11.Gavino Cruz, San Germán, (1832-1930) (hijo: Emilio) Maestro de Efraín Ronda.
12. Guadalupe Borrero, Yauco
13. Angelito Borrero, Yauco
14. Juan “Negrito” Aufant, Ponce
15. Emilio Arroto, Ponce
16. Arturo Rodríguez, Ponce
17. Joaquín Rivera, (El Zurdo), Isabela
18. Plutarco “Tarco” ?, Quebradillas
19. Angel García, Rincón
20. Olimpio Hernández, Vega Baja
21. Manuel Macolo, Manatí
22. Ladislao Martínez, (Maestro Ladí) Vega Alta, n. 1898
23. Carlos Soriano, (Norte)
24. Joaquín “El Zurdo” Gandi, (Norte)
25. Juan Cottoy, (Norte)
26. Tito Vázquez (Sur)
27. Juanito y Eugenio Nieves, (Centro)
28. Rafael Sánchez, (Fello), Corozal
29. Jesús Osorio, Naranjito
30. Antonio Ruiz, Ponce, Segundo maestro de Paco Jackson
31. Negro Cubero, Mayagüez
32. Ricardo Portalatín, San Juan
33. Efrain Ronda, San Germán
34. Juan Martínez, Mayagüez
35. Paco Laguna, New York City
36. Eusebio González Ocasio, (Indio de Sabana Grande), (1850-1925)
37. Ricardo Candelario, Jayuya, m. 1911  
 
Folio 2 
Lista cortesía Efraín Ronda

1. Jerónimo Lucena, n. 1755 m. 1850, (Padre de Antonio Lucena), Cabo Rojo
2. Juan Santana, n. 1815 m. 1900, Cabo Rojo, Estudiantes fueron: Gavino Cruz, Nicodemes Rivera, Ramon Pi, Antonio Lucena, Nicanor Camacho.
3. Rufino Román, Adjuntas, n. 1856 (Maestro de Paco Jackson),
4. Francisco Jackson, (Paco), n. 1870, Ponce. Se mudó a Santo Domingo 1893 
 
Cuatrista del Conjunto Arte y Amor,
dir. Jose Ignacio Quintón, Coamo, 1909
crédito: José Ignacio Quintón y Ramon Rivera Bermúdez, 1986
 
1. Gerardo Vechini (cuatro y bombardino) 
 
Cuatristas de la orquesta de Juan Morel Campos, 1895, Ponce
crédito: Historia de la Canción Popular en Puerto Rico, Pedro Malavet Vega, 1992
 
1. Miguel Castillo
2. Ramón Sixto
3. Raúl Matey
4. Galo Alfonso
5. Antonio Ortiz