a history of
dominican music
in the united states

Educational Resource: Eduardo Brito

Eduardo Brito, ca. 1930s

Eduardo Brito, ca. 1930s (Credit: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Archives and Library; Special Collections)

Educational Profile

Born Eleuterio Aragonez, Dominican opera singer, Eduardo Brito, was born on February 21, 1906 in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to Julián Álvarez Brito and Gloria Liboria Aragonez. 

Raised by his single mother, Brito began working at a young age. His many jobs included a food runner at a restaurant, laborer, boxing referee, tobacco packer and furniture mover. Brito’s vocal talents were first recognized as he shined shoes to make ends meet. 

At the age of 20, Brito met Dominican composer Julio Alberto Hernández while in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. During this meeting, Brito decided to pursue a career in singing and musical performance. In 1927, he travelled to New York and debuted at the Apollo Theater with Hernández and sang excerpts from the opera Rigoletto at the Ideal Theater. Later that year, back in the Dominican Republic, Brito was chosen to perform at a political banquet in Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, and became well-known to the country’s elite class.[1]

In 1928, he sang for HIX, the first radio station based in Santo Domingo. Radio was a new invention that became enormously popular both in the Dominican Republic and the United States. The United States Census Record of 1930 shows that 40 percent of households in the country, or more than 12 million homes, owned a radio. Its sales continued to increase during the Great Depression.[2] In the Dominican Republic, radio stations were proliferating throughout the country as the decade progressed. 

Brito was among the first wave of Dominican artists to record music sent to New York City and then sold as records by RCA Victor (formerly known as Victor Records). In 1928, Brito married artist Rosa Elena Bobadilla. A singer and dancer, Bobadilla and Brito formed “Quisqueya Duet,” which later became a trio, when they added Bobadilla’s sister, Edelmira “Kiki” Bobadilla on vocals. By the time he was 22 years old, Brito was no longer an unknown worker in Puerto Plata, but rather a well-known singer heard on the radio and with several recordings under his belt. 

As radio became an important medium for communication, the timing was also perfect for Brito to showcase his talents to the American audience. By 1929, the year that the Great Depression began, Grupo Dominicano was formed by Brito and Hernández in the Dominican Republic. The members were his wife, Rosa Elena Bobadilla, Bienvenido Troncoso, Luis María “Chita” Jimenez, and Enrique García. The group traveled to New York and were among many immigrant artists adding to the city’s already diverse musical scene. The trip resulted in eight legendary recording sessions and produced fifty different songs with Victor Records. 

By 1930, the Spanish-speaking population was burgeoning in every corner of New York City.  Puerto Ricans were the largest Spanish-speaking group in the city, numbering 54,000 people, followed by 23,000 people from Spain.  At the time, Mexicans and Dominicans, on the other hand, represented 7,000 and 1,518, respectively, while people from South and Central America numbered approximately 29,000.[3] Spanish-speaking immigrants in the United States often looked to music, along with other cultural symbols, as a way to stay connected to the countries they left behind, and also to remember who they were, while living in the United States. As Latinos grew demographically and permeated the space with their homeland connections and memories, a cultural transformation took shape in New York.  In many ways, Brito was at the beginning of this transformation.  

Despite this, the growing majority of Latino artists were only permitted to perform in segregated clubs for mixed crowds of African American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean patrons. There were exceptions to this. Trio Borinquen, which Brito’s peer Rafael Hernández formed, played at the predominantly white Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, whose name was later changed to The Apollo Theater. Brito and his wife Bobadilla were among those performers allowed to entertain in clubs for white audiences only. 

While most of Grupo Dominicano’s members returned to the Dominican Republic, Brito and Bobadilla stayed. In 1930, the couple was invited to perform at an event celebrating Dominican Independence Day with one of the first Dominican cultural organizations established in the country, U.S. Asociación Cívica Dominicana Hijos de Duarte.[4] As a soloist, Brito also went on to perform at the well-known Waldorf Astoria luxury hotel on February 23rd until February 27th, 1932[5], and at Broadway’s RKO Theater. “He developed a wide repertoire of musical styles, and sang sets that were an eclectic mix, ranging from merengues to zarzuelas to famous opera arias.”[6] 

In 1932, Brito and Bobadilla left New York City and traveled to Spain with a touring company created by Eliseo Grenet, a Cuban pianist and composer. Brito was better known in Spain than in New York City, but the couple would eventually leave and tour throughout Latin America at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. In this three-year conflict between the leftist Populist Front and the right-wing Nationalists, one of the many fears of the war was the spread of fascism throughout Europe. The Nationalists, supported by Nazi Germany and Italy’s fascist government, won the war and General Francisco Franco assumed power over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. 

In 1941 during the Second World War, Brito and Bobadilla returned to the Dominican Republic for good. By then, the government was under the control of dictator Rafael L. Trujillo, who was in power from 1930 until he was assassinated in 1961. Brito suffered a psychological breakdown shortly after his return and was then committed to a mental hospital.

Five years later, on January 5, 1946, three weeks before his fortieth birthday, Brito’s life ended. Following his death, there were tributes to honor his talents in a retrospective collection of his greatest and most recognizable songs, including “Lucia,” “La mulatona” (The Mulatto Woman), and “Lamento esclavo” (The Lament of the Slave).[7] 

In 2006 President Dr. Leonel Fernández renamed Teatro Nacional  (National Theater) after Eduardo Brito. Teatro Nacional Eduardo Brito is the most prestigious performance hall of the Dominican Republic and it stands alongside the country’s most esteemed museums in the Plaza de la Cultura in Santo Domingo. 

[1] Roorda, Eric Paul. “Brito, Eduardo.” Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography, edited by Franklin W. Knight and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Oxford University Press, 2016, 405-406.

[2] New York Historical Society. “The Radio Set,” WWII & NYC Classroom Materials for the Exhibition, 2012-2013, p. 62, http://wwii.nyhistory.org/pdf/WWII-Classroom-Materials.pdf. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019.

[3] New York Historical Society. “Connecting New York and Latin America.” Nueva York 1613-1945 Classroom Materials, 2010-2011, 73 “ http://www.nuevayork-exhibition.org/pdf/NuevaYorkClassroomMaterials.pdf. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019.

[4] New York Historical Society. “Connecting New York and Latin America”, 73.

[5] El álbum de Eduardo Brito. Santo Domingo: Secretaría de Estado de Educación, Bellas Artes y Cultos de la República Dominicana, 1994, 21.

[6] El álbum de Eduardo Brito, 21.

[7] Roorda, “Brito, Eduardo”, 405-406.

Discussion Questions
  1. What surprised you about Eduardo Brito’s story? Why does his story matter?
  2. Compare and contrast Brito’s career with that of Monica Boyar’s. In what ways were both artists impacted by the politics of the time? In what ways were their childhoods similar? 
  3. How did Brito use his connections to propel his career in the Dominican Republic and then in New York City?
  4. How can his story illuminate the exciting technological advances of the time, such as the popularity of the radio and how it changed the music industry? What technologies today have changed the way we hear and access music

• Find a recording of Eduardo Brito’s music (youtube, spotify) and listen to some of his most popular songs such as “Lucia,” La mulatona,” and “Lamento esclavo.” Describe how it felt to hear his music. How can hearing his music give us a better understanding of his story?

• Write a brief letter to audiences of the Dominican Teatro Nacional. What should they know about the man the main performance hall is named after? What resonated with you about his story?

• If you were to tell Eduardo Brito about a musical artist today, who would you choose? Why is their story important? How is it different or similar to Brito’s? 

• Imagine you are creating a museum exhibit on Brito and three other artists whose works you feel are versatile, surprising, and relatable. What would you include in your exhibit? What themes would connect these artists, especially if they were popular in different decades? Who should see your exhibit? 


Opera - A dramatic work in one or more acts, set to music for singers and instrumentalists.

Merengue -  Merengue is a Dominican dance music form in binary rhythm, usually quite fast in tempo and employing relatively simple harmonies but often in complex arrangements.  

Records - A thin plastic disc carrying recorded sound in grooves on each surface, for reproduction by a record player.

Zarzuela - A Spanish traditional form of musical comedy.

Segregated - Separated or divided along racial, sexual, or religious lines

The Second World War - A war (1939–45) in which the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were defeated by an alliance eventually including the United Kingdom and its dominions, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

Retrospective- showing the development of an artist's work over a period of time.