Distinguished cuatrista and composer from the town of Morovis
Notes by David Morales
Hailing from the musical town of Morovis, Juan Peña was one of the best Puerto Rican cuatristas. He was also a distinguished composer of instrumental music for the instrument.
Although we don't know very many details about his life or artistic career, we do know that he composed dozens of pieces for the cuatro and that his father was a cuatro-maker in Morovis.
Juan Peña recorded dozens of pieces on his cuatro during the 1940s and 1950s. The earliest Juan Peña recordings in our collection are dated 1948 and 1949, when he accompanies the great troubadour brothers Ramito, Moralito y Luisito, on the Ansonia, Verne and Colonial labels, respectively, with his own grouo. During this time Juan Peñas group was made up of his cousin Jaime Pena, on guitar and his brother Chin on güiro.
In those early recordings, Juan Peña style is eloquent and innovative. His recording “En Un Petate En El Suelo” where Luis (Luisito) Morales y Marta Cuadrado, are heard singing in controversia, display his extremely elegant technique. Also, on the tracks "Los Magos de Oriente" (with Luisito), "Tomo Para Olvidar" (with Moralito) y "Huerfano en el Mundo" with Ramito, Juan Peña demonstrates his skill and mastery of the instrument.
Juan Peña accompanies Luisito and Marta Cuadrado in "En un petate en el suelo" [On a straw mat upon the floor]
Juan Peña and his group perform their version of the national anthem "La Borinqueña" on the Ideal label, #1027
Juan Peña accompanies Moralito in the seis mapeyé "Tomo para olvidar" [I drink to forget]
Juan Peña plays cuatro in the seis mariendá Huerfano en el mundo; [Orphan in the world]. Ramito sings. Ansonia #5046