Luisito Benjamin was an accomplished Puerto Rican pianist during and after the second World War. He also happens to be my great uncle. Born into a family whose father taught music from the home, Luisito could not resist the urge to play the family’s piano and other instruments. His father began formally teaching him at a young age, when he took notice of his burgeoning natural talent. However Luisito had other plans for his musical training.
He would often get into trouble for playing by ear because his father was dead set on getting him to read music and play the classics. Luisito had a natural ability to hear a piece and easily reproduce it in his own style with ease. He would pay his little sister (my grandmother) a penny to be his lookout. She would sound the alarm if Dad was coming home while Luisito was practicing his forbidden art of ear playing.
One time, sister Luisa was too tempted with her penny that was quickly burning through her pocket. She quickly ran to the nearby store to purchase some contraband candy. Unfortunately for Luisito, Dad came home in time to catch him in the act.
Luisito went on to a career in the US Army playing for dance bands and conducting orchestras. Think Glenn Miller Orchestra. Later he had a long career travelling the states and Carribean islands as well as becoming the pianist for the Miguelito Valdez orchestra. He also made numerous solo recordings with his signature style of Latin-infused easy listening and dance music.
My grandmother was able to preserve some of these 33 vinyl records, and I have made them eternal by digitizing them. I’ve included a link in this post to download the first album. You’ll notice that it consists of just two tracks. Each side of the record is made up of several songs, but they are blended together like a medley. Unless you’re very familiar with the Latin music of 50 years ago, you may not know one song from another. If you look at the metadata of the MP3 files (command-I in iTunes), you can see the track listing for each side as well as the composers.
Obviously this is a great departure from the music that I normally post here, but the family connection here could not be ignored. Listening to these for the first time a few weeks ago was a unique experience for me. There is no one living in my family that has taken a musical instrument as seriously as I have. Many family members took childhood lessons of one form or another, but never stuck with it. Hearing a not-too-distant relative playing an instrument (and a piano, no less) so well was a delight. I probably read into it too much and tried to hear some of me in his playing. Alas, even 50 years ago, he was way out of my league.
I hope you enjoy the music of Luisito Benjamin as much as I have. I plan to post two more recordings in the coming weeks, so be sure to follow this blog on Twitter or through WordPress.
The download files are zipped to compress the size as well as simplify the number of files needed. I’ve also included a hi-res PDF of the front and back of the record jackets. If you need help unzipping and accessing the files, you can email me here.
Coincidentally, the tall fortress wall shown on the album cover is Castillo de San Cristobal, a military fort in Old San Juan. When I traveled to Puerto Rico years ago, I took this picture of one of those spires from atop the wall.