Ernesto Lecuona was the most important musician in Cuban musical life during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Guanabacoa, a suburb of Havana, in 1895, Lecuona first established himself as an outstanding pianist, graduating from the National Conservatory with the Gold Medal in performance at the age of seventeen. He went to New York City to concertize and there, in 1916, made his first public appearance outside of Havana. International success as a pianist occurred seven years later, once more in New York but, thanks to the huge success of pieces like Malaguena and Siboney, composition superceded pianism as Lecuona's primary activity. Still, Lecuona continued to actively tour and perform widely as pianist and conductor for most of his life
Among Lecuona's many achievements were the founding of the Havana Symphony (with Gonzalo Roig), the Lecuona Cuban Boys Band, and La Orquesta de La Habana. Lecuona, also, wrote a great deal of film music in the '30s and '40s for such major studios as MGM, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers; in 1942, he was nominated for an Academy Award.