The Great Woman Singer: Gender and Voice in Puerto Rican Music
So What If She’s Black?
Ruth Fernández enjoyed a very successful artistic career, which hinged on the strangeness her contralto voice represented societally, because of racist conceptions of what a woman’s voice should sound like. These were sutured by the naturalization of the black female voice as masculine. Fernández countered by adopting a glamorous diva stance. Yet there is no doubt it was her voice’s powerful effect that made her into a pop music star internationally, and also the ideal symbol for the Popular Democratic Party in the 1950s and 1960s. This culminated in a career as politician, when she was elected senator at large in 1972 and 1976. Several signal performances of acousmatic blackness punctuated this career: first, the Fortunato Vizcarrondo poem set to music, “Y tu abuela, ónde etá”; second, Fernández’s portrayal of Cuban slave Dolores Santa Cruz in the Cuban operetta Cecilia Valdés and her wildly popular interpretations of Afro-Cuban semiclassical music; and third, her 1960s pop versions of Afro–Puerto Rican folkloric genres and internationalist pop music advertising Puerto Rican progress.
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