In 2016, Barbès Records released Miramar’s debut album:” Dedication to Sylvia Rexach” an album that sparked renewed interest in the often-overlooked Puerto Rican composer.
To celebrate Rexach’s 100th anniversary, Miramar is releasing a new recording of her song Olas y Arenas, arranged for string quartet and voice by Marlysse Simmons Argandoña and performed by the Rosette String Quartet and singer Laura Ann Singh.
It may take a cultural event as momentous as the release of Spielberg’s West Side Story to get people interested in Puerto Rican culture, but if there was ever a time to celebrate Sylvia Rexach - Puerto Rico’s greatest female composer – now would be the time.
Sylvia Rexach was born a hundred years ago and while she has attained cult status in Puerto Rico, she remains a relative unknown outside of her native isle - even though many of her songs have made it into the pan-Latin canon.
The celebrated Puerto Rican artist was working as a poet and composer at the exact time West Side Story was being conceived in New York City - Rexach died two days after the original movie was released, on October 20th 1961.
Rexach was born in 1922 into a middle-class family and taught herself piano and guitar at a young age. A fiercely independent woman, Rexach eschewed the traditional path then available to women, and embraced the lifestyle of San Juan’s bohemia of which she became a central character. She began to compose and write poetry in her teenage years and went on to form the first Puerto Rican all female band, Las Damiselas. She contributed a regular column to El Diario de Puerto Rico, wrote radio skits in which she also acted and was one of the founders of SPACEM, the Puerto Rican Society of Authors and Composers.
While Rexach became well-known while still alive, her only recording is an album with guitarist Tuti Umpierre released in 19 by the Puerto Rican Cultural Institute (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña). Her songs have since been covered by many artists, including Linda Ronstadt and, most recently, Miguel Zenon.
In 2016, Barbès Records released a Tribute to Sylvia Rexach by bolero group Miramar. The album led to renewed interest for the composer, with acclaimed concerts at Lincoln Center and the Smithsonian as well as performances with the Richmond Symphony and a great number of string quartet in the US, France and Russia.
The release did contribute to raising the composer’s profile but there is still a long way to go. While Steven Spielberg strived for authenticity with his remake of West Side Story, as the Los Angeles Times noted, “the collective effort does not correct the problematic appropriation on which the musical was built.” Something its original creators mostly agreed with – Stephen Sondheim did famously say that he had “never even known a Puerto Rican!”
So now is the time to set the record straight on this most extraordinary woman who has come to embody Puerto Rican culture in all its richness and complexity.
Olas Y Arenas. Single out digitally on barbès records 02/18/22
For more info on Miramar and Sylvia Rexach, visit
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