Famous AfroBoricua: 'Ruth Fernandez'
Ruth Fernández (born May 23, 1919 in Ponce , Puerto Rico)
is a singer who according to the "Comisiones Nacionales para la
Celebración del Quinto Centenario" (National Commission for
the Celebration of the Fifth Centennial) is said to be one of three
artists whose contributions have helped "unite Latin America ".
Ruth's mother died when she was three years old and she was
raised along with her four other siblings by her grandmother.
She received her primary and secondary education in her hometown.
As a child she learned to play the piano and was
very active in her school and community's activities.
In high school she organized her own musical group.
She became a professional singer at the age of
14 when she would go to the local radio stations,
WPRP and WPAB, and sing for 50 cents a day.
In 1935, when she was 16 years old, she was heard by Mingo,
a bandleader of a locally popular band and was hired.
She then performed in nightclubs, dances and casinos.
Ruth started to gain popularity and in 1941, was
signed by Columbia Records with whom she recorded
her first hit song, "Cuando Vuelvas" (When you return) .
Her first appearance in New York
was in 'The Latin Theater' of New York .
There the Master of Ceremonies, Hector del Villar,
introduced her as "El Alma de Puerto Rico hecha
cancion" (The Soul of Puerto Rico made song).
That nickname or introduction was to stay with her forever.
When Ruth returned to the island, she
enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico
with the intention of becoming a social worker.
However, she once again joined Mingo and his
band, the "Whoopee Kids" and toured with them
throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America .
Ruth was the very first successful "black"
female Puerto Rican singer, and as such,
she broke color barriers and stereotypes.
On one occasion the Mingo band was contracted
to perform in the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel.
The director of the orchestra told her that according
to the hotel's rules, she had to enter through
the kitchen door like all other "black" musicians
(a de facto integration rule, illegal at the time
in Puerto Rico , but still in place at the time out
of concern for American patrons of the hotel).
Ruth however, did not follow the instructions
and entered through the main entrance.
She went on stage and performed
before the astonished audience.
During World War II and the Korean War,
she traveled overseas to entertain the soldiers.
When she returned to Puerto Rico , she decided to go solo.
In 1954, Ruth participated in the first televised
musical television show in the history of
Puerto Rico "El Show Libby's".
She also had many other "firsts", she was the first
woman to sing in a Puerto Rican orchestra;
the first Puerto Rican woman to sing "popular" music
at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City';
the first Latina singer of romantic music to sing
in the Scandinavian countries and the first
Latina to record with a North American band.
Ruth sang in the United States and was
transmitted coast to coast when she was
contracted by a network of CBS radio stations.
She also performed at Carnegie Hall of New York .
Among the many countries in which she has
performed are Italy , France , Spain , Norway ,
Venezuela , Mexico , Panama and Cuba .
She received many awards and
recognitions througout her career.
She was elected into the Senate of Puerto Rico,
representing the district of Ponce as a member
of the Partido Popular de Puerto Rico
(Popular Democratic Pasrty of Puerto Rico).
As a legislaturer she sought many reforms and
better working conditions for the artistic class.
In 1990, she was selected by Imagen (Image) magazine
as one the ten most powerful women in Puerto Rico .
Ruth Fernández later retired from all political
activities and at times works with the House
of the Puerto Rican Artist organization.