Estrella Acosta


MUJERES DE LUNA - Women in Cuban Music
Every full moon I will feature a new composer in this blog

MARIA CERVANTES:   "Music is my life"

While searching for Cuban composers born in the late 19th century, I was charmed when I heard a beautiful song in Spotify, recorded by pianist, composer and vocalist María Cervantes (1885 -1981), daughter of renowned pianist/composer Ignacio Cervantes. This recording was made in New York (1929) for Columbia Records. While reading about the successful career of Maria Cervantes, I discovered an emancipated, intelligent, talented, versatile woman, who was admired and loved by all. She was a pioneer for many female Cuban artists who have followed in her footsteps. She is a 'Mujer de Luna'.

The song that I discovered in Spotify, composed, played and sung by María, is 'Tus Manos Blancas'. Because of the wear and tear of the original 78 rpm, the lyrics were hard to understand. I asked a friend who was traveling to Cuba to look for the score. She found an old copy of the sheet music in Havana, made pictures with her phone, and brought them back to to the Netherlands. I finally understood the lyrics to this beautiful song and recorded it.

María grew up surrounded by music. She always knew she was an artist and started to play the piano when she was barely 3 years old. She could hardly reach the pedals, but when she heard music that she liked, she would rush to the piano and play it.
She studied piano from a very early age with her distinguished father and with other great piano teachers. When she was 13 she performed for the first time at Teatro Tacón, today called Gran Teatro de La Habana. In 1927 she made her first recording in Havana and in 1929 she married and went to live in New York. During the two years she lived there she made 21 recordings for Columbia Records. Throughout her life she performed in both New York and Havana at the best clubs and theaters as well as Cuban television and radio. She continued to record for Columbia Records. For years, through her personal charm and her special charisma to interpret her songs, María received the admiration and love of the public.

On piano María played the beautiful danzas composed by her father, and she also sang boleros, guarachas and sones. She had a very personal style that made you think of her ex-student, the great pianist/composer Ignacio Villa, better known as Bola de Nieve, who said that when she interpreted her hit song ¡A los frijoles, caballeros!, "a little black man climbed up her arm." María replied "Do you know that I am a great bongo player? And don't get me started on congas!"

¿Y qué me dice de Bola de Nieve? Él decía que cuando yo tocaba «¡A los frijoles, caballeros!» se me encaramaba un negrito en el brazo. ¿Sabe que soy tremenda bongosera? Y con las tumbadoras, ¡ni hablar!

María married three times. That was unusual for a woman at that time, living in a predominately Catholic country where divorce was a taboo. She was an emancipated woman who believed in her career and in her freedom, reason for which she divorced her second husband who was an extremely jealous man. She finally found her soulmate, married for the third time, and lived happily with him until he passed away.

After her last husband's death she retired for a while, but made a comeback in 1960 in a packed concert performance at the Fine Arts Museum. At that time she said: "I would have liked to retire from radio and theater, and for the public to remember me as I was, without glasses, grey hair, younger, but this was a second great debut that I do not regret because if I would have really retired, I would have died. Music is my life."

- Estrella Acosta, April 11, 2017


Maria Cervantes