a history of
dominican music
in the united states

Educational Resource: Monica Boyar

Dominican singer Monica Boyar

Dominican singer Monica Boyar (Credit: Photo by Mario Geo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Educational Profile

Cabaret singer and actress Monica Boyar was born Argentina Mercedes María Gonzalez Morel Valerio Urea in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic on December 20, 1920. She died on October 2, 2013 at the age of 92 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her life in the United States began in 1928, when at the age of 6, she migrated to the United States with her parents and settled in New York City.

At the time of her family’s arrival, New York City was experiencing an influx of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. By 1930, there were 7,000 people from Mexico in New York City, 29,000 from Central and South America, 23,000 from Cuba and the West Indies, and 23,000 from Spain. Puerto Ricans, however, were the largest Spanish-speaking group in the city, numbering 54,000 people.[1]

New York City’s rapidly growing Spanish-speaking community directly influenced the city’s arts and culture scene. During Boyar’s childhood, dance forms like the rhumba and Latin jazz became wildly popular.

Boyar’s interest in the arts began early in her education. She attended Manhattanville Junior High School and Textile High School. At the age of 12, she performed with her school’s choral group at the Metropolitan Opera House, and participated in various student theater productions.

Following the death of her mother, Boyar’s interests in music and theater became sources of income to support the family. While most working class Latinas in northeastern cities such as New York City worked in industrial settings during the 1930s and 1940s, Boyar’s career took shape in spaces typically inaccessible for immigrants and people of color.[2] She performed in nightclubs throughout the New York metropolitan region, including La Conga and Casa Seville. Her reputation as a Dominican entertainer flourished, receiving glowing reviews along the way. Among Boyar’s various accolades, was a 1946 review in the New York Daily Mirror, which called her the “Satin Latin,” and described her as “America’s Newest Discovery.”  Boyar was also described as “tall, olive-complexioned and slim. Her hair is forty inches long. Her eyes are light brown when in good spirits, almost black when annoyed. Her mouth, sensuous and pouting, quick to express an opinion. Her hands are as much a part of her songs as the very lyrics and music she is feeling. She is an exciting performer to watch as you experience her constantly changing moods.”[3]

Boyar gained national and international recognition throughout the 1930s and 1940s as mambo and merengue gained popularity in mainstream society. In 1939, during the New York World’s Fair, Boyar taught icon Arthur Murray how to dance merengue. During World War II, she performed in USO Camp shows and recorded Dominican folk songs for the Library for the Music of the World.

During this period, the cultural landscape of the Americas was changing in terms of sound and movement. Dominican artists such as Boyar were at the center of this dynamic shift for both the United States and the Dominican Republic.

Urban areas like New York City became Dominican cultural incubators. The music brought by Dominican migrants was exchanged, shared, and changed by Dominican artists performing alongside African Americans, Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean musicians. The sound and rhythm, while Dominican in their origin, transformed into something new that incorporated the experience of both, the U.S.’s and the immigrant’s.

As the dictatorship continued after World War II, Dominican artists contributed to the growing anti-Trujillista movement through their music. After her second husband, Federico “Gugú” Henríquez Vázquez, was captured and killed for attempting to overthrow Trujillo during the 1949 Luperón Expedition, Boyar’s music became a deeply personal act of resistance when she recorded two anti-Trujillista songs: “Santo Domingo” and “Chapita fue a la guerra.”

After her husband’s execution by the Trujillo regime, Boyar would eventually disappear from the Dominican music scene, though she would continue her artistic career in mainstream society.

[1] New York Historical Society. Nueva York: 1613-1945 Classroom Materialshttp://www.nuevayork-exhibition.org/pdf/NuevaYorkClassroomMaterials.pdf. Accessed 1 October, 2019.

[2] Ruíz, Vicki L. and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, ed. “Introduction: A Historical and Regional Overview.” Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, p. 10

[3] Tatar, Ben. “Boyar, Monica (1920).” Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, 95.

Discussion Questions
  1. Describe evidence of Monica Boyar’s anti-trujillista resistence.
  2. How did her experiences as an immigrant in New York City shape Boyar’s choices in becoming an entertainer?
  3. Why is her story important?
  4. How can we use Monica Boyar’s story to understand the cultural shifts in New York City during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s?
  5. What can Monica Boyar’s career and life experience tell us about the larger Dominican community in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s?
  6. How did music serve as a tool for expressing political views and activism for Dominican immigrants during the 1930s to 1950s?
  7. Do Dominican musical artists still express political views against the Dominican or the U.S. government the way Boyar did?
  8. How can reading Boyar’s life story help us consider the influence of politics and immigration on creating music?

• Create a poster of Monica Boyar and Eduardo Brito’s careers and lives to share with your class. What interesting facts will you include about their stories? How were these artists different, yet similar? Why should they be remembered?

• Monica Boyar used music to express her political views and inspire change in the Dominican Republic. Create a song or a poem about an issue that you believe is important and should be addressed in society. You can choose an issue affecting your school or the country as a whole.


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

Rhumba - A rhythmic dance with Spanish and African elements, originating in Cuba.

Mambo - A Latin American dance influenced by the rumba.

Immigrant – A person who migrate under permanent status to the U.S.

Migrant - A person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.

Diaspora - The dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.

Lexicon - The vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge.

Dictatorship - Absolute authority of government.