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My Music is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities 1917-1940 by Ruth Glasser

Glasser has written a thorough history of Puerto Rican music in New York for the time period in question. She examines the history of Puerto Rican music as a cultural development within a colonial and migratory context and writes that “Puerto Rico had the dubious honor of being the only Latin American country whose popular music was created mainly on foreign soil.” Chapter Two discusses the specific recruitment of Puerto Rican musicians by James Reece Europe for the U.S. Army’s Hellfighter band. One of those recruited was the composer Rafael Hernandez, the most important figure in the history of Puerto Rican music. He “created songs with complexly weaving vocal patterns, minor to major shifts, and highly poetic sentiments.” Puerto Rican musicians who came to this country were accustomed to far less rigid racial classifications and the story of how they adjusted to America’s sharp racial divide makes for interesting reading. Glasser profiles Augusto Coen, ” a complete musician…who spent years dividing his time between jazz and Latin orchestras” and was a precursor of that other “complete musician,” Tito Puente. This dense, impeccably researched work, including notes, bibliography, selected discography, and index, would have benefitted from a less neutral writing style, the result no doubt of the book’s ordain as a dissertation.

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