Ernesto Lecuona


(August 6, 1895 Guanabacoa, Havana, Cuba – November 29, 1963 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain)

Ernesto Lecuona y Casado was a Cuban composer and pianist of Canarian father and Cuban mother, and achieved worldwide fame performing all over the world. He composed over six hundred pieces, mostly in the Cuban vein, and was a pianist of exceptional quality, having learned piano by the age of 5 and graduated from the National Conservatory of Havana with a Gold Medal for interpretation when he was just sixteen.

He first travelled to Spain in 1924 on a concert tour with violinist Marta de la Torre; his successful piano recitals in 1928 at Paris coincided with a rise in interest in Cuban music.

He was a prolific composer of songs and music for stage and film. 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 Corazon) was nominated for an Oscar 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 Delfin. 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. Lecuona lived his final years in the US. He died 3 years later at Santa Cruz de Tenerife at age 68, and is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York; 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.
Ernesto Lecuona
circa 1935

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 folk lore, did not write the song).

Eternal Cuba con Enrique Chia

Explore the island’s heritage with Cuban pianist Enrique Chia. A look into Cuba’s musical and architectural heritage.