Talented Puerto Rican Composer Juan Morel Campos
Although the music of Puerto Rico has been influenced by its African and European heritage, it has developed its own distinctive vibrant sound over the generations. There have been a number of notable Puerto Rican musicians and composers who have made significant contributions to the various styles of music enjoyed by the people of the enchanted island. Juan Morel Campos (1857-1896) was one such composer and musician, who, in his relatively short lifetime composed more than 550 musical works, with his focus being on the popular genre of danza, although he also composed symphonies, waltzes, marches and overtures.
Born in Ponce on May 16, 1857, Campos started his music studies at the age of eight. He learned to play a wide range of brass instruments and went on to become a founder of the Ponce Firemen’s Band in 1883, which later became the Ponce Municipal Band. The band still performs today and has the distinction of being the oldest continuously performing band in the Caribbean.
For a time Juan Morel Campos was tutored by Manuel Gregorio Tavárez (1843-1883), the composer and musician considered to be the “Father of the Puerto Rican Danzas”. As his music career progressed, Juan Morel Campos was credited with raising the popular genre of danza to its highest level. His first danza composition was called Sopapos, with subsequent compositions including themes of love, heartbreak and a range of other human emotions. It is said that the inspiration of many of his most beautiful danzas, such as Maldito Amor (Damned Love), was his unfulfilled love for a woman whose family disapproved of their relationship. (He later married Secundina Beltrán Collazo and they had five children together – Olimpia, Eugenia, Belén, Plácido and Manuel.) Other popular danzas composed by Campos include Conversación (Conversation); Felices Días (Happy Days); No me Toques (Do Not Touch Me); Sin ti jamás (Never without you); Sueño de Amor (Dream of love); Ten Piedad (Have pity); Tormento (Torment) and Un conflict (A conflict).
Sadly, the celebrated musician suffered a stroke during a concert in his home city of Ponce and died on May 12, 1896, just four days short of his 39th birthday. Although his life and career ended too soon, his legacy lives on in his music and for this he has been honored with May 16 of each year being celebrated as Juan Morel Campos Day in Puerto Rico. He is honored at the Park of the Illustrious Ponce Citizens, has three schools (including the Free School of Music Juan Morel Campos in San Juan) and a housing development named after him, and a statue of him stands at Plaza Las Delicias in Ponce.