By Yudith Madrazo Sosa
Hummed by thousands of people, versioned by numerous singers inside
and outside Cuba, the song Veinte años (Twenty years) stands for a classic among the Cuban music records and was, according to the experts, the one that launched its author, María Teresa Vera, to fame.
The outstanding singer, one of the few female composers and singers of her time, was born in Guanajay, Havana Province, on February 6th, 1895. She was the granddaughter of a couple of slaves and the daughter of a Spanish military official who had decided to reside in the island after the independence war. At a very young age she became known in the bohemian and trova circles, where she met Manuel Corona, a composer and guitar player that urged her to learn how to play this instrument.
A tenacious young woman, María Teresa followed the advice of the composer and started studying guitar with José Díaz, a tobacco manufacturer and guitar master, although she went on studying with Corona himself, who helped her to improve her knowledge.
On March 18, 1911, at the age of 16, she made her first appearance in the public scene at the Theater Politeama Grande, in Havana, along with Rafael Zequeira. What took place there that day marked with a golden seal her artistic debut, since her interpretation of the song Mercedes was so delightful to the audience that they asked her repeat it around sixth times. This fact made the young woman understand she had no other choice than to live for the music.
María Teresa along with Zequeira toured in diverse times to the United States. As the singer once pointed out, the duet soon became very popular inside and outside Cuba thanks to their excellent adjustment to each other and their understanding of the artistic mission they had set themselves to accomplish.
She returned to Havana in 1922 with Manuel Corona. In this city, she was hired by the record company RCA Víctor. Along with Corona and Zequeira, María Teresa recorded 149 songs until the latter died in 1924. During that time she also recorded some pieces with Higinio Rodríguez, with whom she continued to work for many years.
After Zequeira’s death, she performed alone, just accompanied by a guitar player from time to time until she joined Miguelito García, with whom she formed a duet until 1931.
But no only the duets called the singer’s attention. She would also join her voice to others to form quartets and was as well the founder of the Sexteto (Sextet) Occidente, a group composed of very talented musicians with brilliant careers.
Due to personal circumstances, she abandoned the group and a little after she joined the orchestra of Justa García, who had a program in a famous radio station in Havana. In that context, she formed together with Lorenzo Hierrezuelo a very popular duet that lasted twenty five years.
According to their acquaintances, María Teresa and Hierrezuelo identified with each other in such a way and achieved such professional level that they sometimes refuse to rehearse before the presentations. They toured to Mexico and performed in the Mexican night centers with enormous success.
María Teresa’s work in Havana’s radio stations paved the way to the broadcasting of the popular Cuban music. She composed various songs although many people attribute the lyrics to some of her female friends who wrote poetry. Pieces such as Por qué me siento triste, No me sabes querer, Yo quiero que tú sepas and the legendary Veinte años are renowned as the most outstanding of her work.
In 1962, due to serious illness, she decided to retire from scene. Three years later, in December 17th, 1965, relatives, friends and fans would cry her death. The grace and creativity she bestowed to her doing gave the notorious interpreter of the Cuban song the flavor of uniqueness.