One of the first Puerto Rican composers, vocalists, and bandleaders to achieve success in the United States, Manuel Jimenez, or Canario as he was best known, recorded at a prolific rate between 1914 and 1964. Although he claimed to have written more than 1,000 romantic tunes, he is remembered more for helping to establish the planero as a popular, Afro-Puerto Rican style of tropical song.
A native of Orocovis, Puerto Rico, Canario grew up in the town of Manati. After working for numerous sugar-processing companies in Manati, he moved to San Juan to serve an apprenticeship. He found the work grueling and longed for an escape. He had his chance when he hid aboard a ship, at the age of 16, and sailed to Barcelona, where he remained until traveling to the United States, via Cuba, a few months later. Settling in New York, he enlisted in the merchant marines.
Recording his debut single, for the Pathe label, in 1914, Canario continued to record for Daniel Castilian in 1915 and Odeon in 1916. Forming a trio, he began touring the United States in 1918. He recorded several tunes for RCA Victor in 1926. Canario reached his peak in the early ’30s. Returning to Puerto Rico in 1931, he and his band embarked on a highly successful tour of theaters, universities, and the sports club of Ponce. The following year, a tour of the United States included shows at the Paramount, Roxy, Cotton Club, and Lido clubs.
The 20 songs that they recorded, in 1932, for Victor and Columbia, including “Santa Maria,” “Cuando las Mujeres Quieren los Hombres,” and “Cortaron A Elena,” have gone on to become classics of Latin music. Moving back to Puerto Rico in June 1949, Canario lived in his homeland for the rest of his life. In 1964, he recorded several tunes and performed concerts for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Center. Diagnosed with diabetes in 1968, he died seven years later.