Special Honorees

Johnny & Aida Cruz

Juan (Johnny) Cruz Jr. was born August 11, 1951 in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. His love of music started at the young age of 6, when playing in the countryside, he became aware of the surrounding sounds, the birds and rooster singing during the day and the coqui singing at night. He would try to mimic the sounds he heard with rubber bands, strings, branches and pots. During family festivities, like “parrandas”, musicians would arrive to give their gift of music to his family. Johnny would sit close to the musicians and contemplate the sweet sound of the cuatro and guitar. Johnny taught himself to play cuatro and guitar by seeing and listening to the musicians. He could now mimic the sound of the birds with the cuatro.

After graduating high school he came to the Bronx, New York in 1969 pursuing the American dream. He developed his musical skills, performing as a soloist and in Trios in the New York Barrios Night Clubs. Moving to Philadelphia in 1973 he completed his education as a TV & radio technician.

Aida Cruz was born September 4, 1959 and raised in north Philadelphia.  Born to Puerto Rican parents she was taught to speak only Spanish at home. Her mother taught her how to read and write Spanish by reading the Spanish bible. Summer trips to Puerto Rico helped Aida learn her cultural roots from her Grandmother in Ceiba and family in Corozal. She learned to play the guitar at the age of 10 with the help of a neighbor, Maria Díaz. In order to connect deeper into her cultural roots she attended Taller Puertorriqueño’s children workshops, Concilio’s development of the Puerto Rican Parade committee, performing parrandas on Puerto Rican Panorama, and St. Christopher’s Hospital.  Very involved with her Church of St. Boniface, she was president “Hijas de Maria” (daughters of Mary) group.  Wanting to play and sing praises to God, Spanish style, she became a member of the Churches Spanish choir. Aida graduated from Mastbaum high school and attended Temple University.  She has been working for the School District of Philadelphia for 28 years as a Bilingual Classroom Assistant.

Johnny met Aida in the St. Boniface’s church Spanish choir.  Aida sang and played the guitar and through the love of music he joined the choir and played the cuatro. Johnny also learned how to play piano with various musicians as coaches. During this time Johnny had developed various musical groups such as La Combinación Latina, Sabor Latino, Sonido Seis, Sultanes del Merengue, Los Muchachitos, Elemento 2000 that performed in the Night Clubs of the Philadelphia barrio, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as at  weddings, birthdays, block parties and schools and colleges.

Johnny and Aida started promoting Puerto Rico’s folkloric music with their group Raíces Boricuas to bring cultural awareness of Puerto Rico’s music to children, many times in partnership with Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas and Taller Puertorriqueño.  Johnny and Aida have also developed a weekly Descarga (Jam) Session on Sunday’s from 2:00 pm to 5:00pm at Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas.

Currently performing in partnership with Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas, the Johnny Cruz Latin Band Ensemble brings you the sound of Afro Cuban and Tropical rhythms.  They have performed in various venues such as Kimmel Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, International House, Feria del Barrio, NALAC and many more. Johnny and Aida’s love for music will continue to evolve to a new generation.

Johnny and Aida married on January 6, 1979 (3 Kings Day). They have three children, Benjamin, Sandra and Christina.

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