TAMIU Professor Lecuona Invited to Canary Islands

TAMIU Professor Lecuona
Invited to Canary Islands

LAREDO - A retired Texas A&M International University professor has found that you can indeed go home, no matter the distance.

Dr. Rafael Lecuona, professor emeritus and long-time professor of political science at TAMIU for over 30 years before his retirement in 2002, has been invited to return to the Canary Islands, ancestral homeland of his uncle, the famed Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Last year, Dr. Lecuona completed an introduction and translation to English for a book penned by José M. Castellano Gil and José Fernández Fernández, Ernesto Lecuona: the Genius and his Music. The authors are historians who share a common interest in Lecuona's music that bridges time and distance. Dr. Castellano is from Tenerife, Canary Islands while Dr. Fernández is from Matanzas, Cuba. Cuba was a common place for Canarians to emigrate, and ties between the two islands continue to bind generations.

Dr. Castellano invited Lecuona to visit the Canary Islands as part of a national promotion for the book about the much-revered Cuban composer of such classics as: "Malagueña," "Siboney," "La Comparsa," "Siempre en mi Corazón," "Dame Tus Rosas," "María La O," and "The Breeze and I." Lecuona's visit will include a reception, interviews with Canary Island media and university and government figures, as well as opportunities to discuss his uncle's legacy.

Lecuona said the chance to return to the Canary Islands provided him with an opportunity to complete a circle that his Canarian grandfather, Ernesto Lecuona Ramos began to form, as he wrote the introduction to the book that he also painstakingly translated.

"It was quite a surprise for me to read so much about my uncle. It brought back so many memories. Now having a chance to return to the Canary Islands will complete that circle," Lecuona noted.

Lecuona said among those memories are magical days and nights spent with friends and family, with his Tío Ernesto playing the piano, enjoying traditional Cuban cuisine, watching his uncle's circle of friends that included famous artists and performers, realizing the power of his uncle's music on audiences and hearing his Tío play the piano for the last time.

Lecuona recalled his uncle's chaotic visits to his childhood home in La Havana. "Tío Ernesto would come with his retinue of a dozen or more fellow artists and my mother always managed to cook my uncle's favorite food -- yellow rice and chicken, fried plantains, French bread, flan, and espresso with sugar, of course. But Tío Ernesto knew our family's financial predicament. So, before she even realized it, he would have asked one of his 'assistants‚' to go to the store and bring all kinds of food: chicken, rice, eggs, good ham, milk, bread, coffee, the works!...He had class, yet was not arrogant. He was extremely respectful of every person. And he was very respected by all," he remembered.

Lecuona recalled visits to La Comparsa, a finca (farm) that took its name from one of his uncle's most famous songs.

"He traveled the world, but the home and place he loved the most was his recreational farm La Comparsa, 60 miles from Havana. He had visitors constantly dropping by. You'd find the famous and powerful like the famous Mexican piano-composer Agustin Lara, or the no less famous Mexican singer Pedro Vargas, internationally known

Josephine Baker or the great Mambo King, Damaso Perez Prado, or any high-ranking government figure or military officer...and they would be treated with the same respect and admiration that he shared for family members," Lecuona noted.

Lecuona recalled a bittersweet "Nochebuena" celebrated with his uncle in Tallahassee, Florida in the 1950s which still haunts him.

"He had moved to Tallahassee and wanted to have a traditional 'Nochebuena‚' with the family with all the traditional foods. For some time, he had not played the piano and avoided performance opportunities. He would never say why, but there was a sadness about him.

"The evening's climax saw him stand in front of the piano. He stood there looking at it for a few seconds. All the chatting came to a stop. We looked at each other, wondering, not knowing what was going to happen next. He stared at the keyboard for a few seconds. No one moved. No one coughed. Not a word or sound could be heard. Even small children who had been talking loud or laughing about were quickly quieted down. He began to play first the unmistakable notes of Malagueña and it was as if he had come back to life! He played for two and a half hours! Everyone was crying. I was as touched as anyone. It was very difficult not to be emotionally taken by the moment, which remains etched in my memory," Lecuona said.

On November 29, 1963, Ernesto Lecuona died in Santa Cruz de Tenerife from complications stemming from emphysema. He had been planning to visit the grave of his father when he died.

Lecuona shared a final memory from his beloved uncle's funeral.

"I recall the night of December 12, 1963, thousands of people under a slight but steady fall of snowflakes, stood outside Frank E. Campbell funeral home on New York City's Madison Avenue. They were patiently waiting to enter the funeral parlor to pay their respects to the 'Maestro.' Tío Ernesto's body was placed in the middle of a large circular hall, while Beethoven's and his own music was played. The genius of Ernesto Lecuona had ceased to exist, but his music continues to live," he offered.

For additional information on Ernesto Lecuona: the Genius and His Music visit TAMIU's bookstore, or Juvencio Men's Wear at 4500 San Bernardo Ave., or contact Dr. Lecuona at rlecuona@hotmail.com.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at pais@tamiu.edu