Rafael Alers, born Rafael Alers Gerena on October 16, 1903 in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, was a renowned composer, musician and bandleader. In addition, he was also the first composer for a Hollywood feature film who was of Puerto Rican decent.
Growing up in his hometown, Alers developed a love of music at a very early age due to his musically inclined family. Professors Angel Garcia and Juan F. Acosta provided his first formal instructions in music, helping him to achieve mastery of the bombardino, euphonium (a wind instrument), trombone and tuba. The euphonium being an instrument that featured in many of his personal compositions, which included many danzas.
After finishing his formal music instruction, Rafael Alers went on to perform for some of the best musical groups around, both inside and outside of Puerto Rico. Some of these music groups also included symphony orchestras.
The Maestro of Danzas
Eventually, Alers went on to create his own dance orchestra, which enjoyed a great deal of fame. It was with this band that he began recording many Puerto Rican danzas, which is a traditional dance music of Puerto Rico. Some of the danzas he recorded included compositions by Angel Mislan, Manuel Gregorio Tavarez and Juan Morel Campos.
In 1933, upon the death of Diaz Soler, he became the conductor of Carmelo Díaz Soler’s Orchestra. The orchestra played regularly on a daily radio program, and in 1935 Alers composed his own danza that aired on the radio the next day. The danza, named Violeta, would become the greatest danza that he ever composed.
The danza was so popular with the public that the radio program decided to have a contest where the public could submit their own lyrics to go with the danza’s musical melody. That contest produced Antonio Cruz Nieves from Catano, who was chosen as the winner and whose lyrics became an essential part of the danza.
With his danzas being so popular with the public, people wanted the melodies to have lyrics. So, in response, he decided to create a series of 8 danzas that included lyrics. The recording, which was called 8 Danzones, was produced with Antonio Cruz Nieves and included the danzas:
– “Conversación”, 3:12
– “Delia y Belén”, 3:03
– “El Torbellino”, 3:08
– “Estrella de Borinquen”, 3:16
– “La Borinqueña“, 2:27
– “No me toques”, 3:17
– “Recuerdos”, 3:15
– “Sara”, 2:38
Rafael Alers married Catalina Roldán, and all together, the couple had 4 sons and 3 daughters. His youngest daughter was named Violeta, presumably in dedicating his most famous danza to her.
In His Later Years
Rafael Alers eventually went on to become the University of Puerto Rico’s ROTC band conductor. While there, he also taught a man named Julito Rodriguez, who also became a professional musician.
He became the first Puerto Rican musician to ever compose for a Hollywood movie when he was hired to compose the musical score for the 1965 movie “Crowded Paradise”, which was directed by Fred Pressburger.
In 1960, many of his musical compositions were released in a 3-volume set that was called “Rafael Alers: Danzas.” While Rafael Alers passed away in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 20 of 1978, many of his danzas were collected and compiled into albums and released after his death. This shows how well loved his musical compositions were and still are today. One danza of particular interest is called La Borinqueña, and it is Puerto Rico’s national anthem.