Born on December 16, 1952, in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Education: Bachelor's degree in music, Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore, MD, 1975. Addresses: Record company--Angel Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028-5274. Website--Manuel Barrueco Official Website:

Manuel Barrueco, like many classical guitarists before him, has struggled for recognition among violin, piano, and cello players. Few composers wrote for the guitar before the twentieth century, leaving players like Andrés Segovia to build their repertoires by adapting Bach and Scarlatti sonatas to their instruments. "It's taken this whole century," Barrueco told Jay Harvey of the Indianapolis Star, "for the classical instrument [guitar] to gain recognition." The need to perform multiple parts simultaneously and the acoustic nature of the classical guitar also complicate matters. "To write for the instrument as a solo instrument is extremely difficult--accompanying itself and carrying a melody, too," Barrueco told Harvey. "And if you are going to use other instruments, there is also the lack of volume about it."

Despite these challenges, Barrueco has achieved a broad level of success, recording a string of well-received albums for Angel Records and performing in prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Reviewing his renditions of several Bach sonatas, the American Record Guide noted, "Barrueco's performance ... shows depth and maturity. His clear and straightforward approach suits these baroque masterpieces and is bound to bring enjoyment to guitar lovers." With a busy touring schedule and a willingness to reach out to non-classical musicians for innovative projects, Barrueco has shown a determination to bring classical guitar to a wider audience.

Born on December 16, 1952, in Santiago, Cuba, Barrueco received his first guitar lessons at the Esteban Salas Conservatory at the age of eight. At 12, he gained recognition for learning to play the challenging Bach Chaconne. He also learned by attending guitar recitals by Elias Barreiro and Léo Brouwer. "At the time," he told David Reynolds in Guitar Review, "I was convinced that if there was a God he would be second to Brouwer." Life in Cuba was difficult for Barrueco. "I remember being told to shut up by a teacher," he recalled to Reynolds, "because I was not a Communist. That's the way my life was at the time."

In 1967, at the age of 14, Barrueco emigrated to the United States with his family, eventually becoming an American citizen. "It was not for musical reasons," he told Harvey. "We were in search of freedom." The following year his family moved to Newark, New Jersey, a change that so upset Barrueco, he quit playing guitar for a year and a half. Finally, he pulled himself together and auditioned for Aaron Shearer at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Although he won a full scholarship, he neglected his studies for the first year or two. "[O]ne day," Barrueco recalled to Reynolds, "I finally realized that there was a connection between the guitar and myself.... And psychologically, the instrument was also a refuge from everything that was going on around me." He began to apply himself, winning the Concert Artist's Guild award and an invitation to play with the National Symphony.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Barrueco divided his time between teaching and performing. He taught students at a music school in Baltimore while attending Peabody and later taught at the Manhattan School of Music. "I have to tell you," Barrueco recalled to Reynolds in an interview that appears at the guitarist's website, "that the situation at Manhattan was very interesting.... [W]hen I began to teach there I was only 22 years old and a lot of the students were older than I was." Finally, he returned to Peabody, where he continues to teach classes. "I never really thought of myself as a teacher, but as a performer that would teach," he told Reynolds. "I teach for both selfish and unselfish reasons. Selfish, because I enjoy it and I learn so much from doing it. Unselfish, because I share with Segovia the same commitment to try to gain respect for our instrument and a concern about the future of the guitar."

Barrueco has noted that because of his conservative training, he listened to nothing but classical music for a number of years. In the mid-1990s, however, he displayed a willingness to cross genres in an effort to bring classical guitar to a wider audience. "[F]or the past several years," he recalled to Adam Levy of Guitar Player in 2001, "I've been trying to open my ears up to hear the beauty in other sounds." In 1996 he released an album with guitarist David Tanenbaum of John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs. The two guitarists recorded Manuel Barrueco Plays Lennon & McCartney at Abbey Road studio, the legendary facility used by the Beatles. While some questioned the motives of a classical guitarist playing popular music, Barrueco explained his intentions to Jim Ferguson in Guitar Player in 1995: "Why does Michael Jackson make millions while the image of a classical musician is something close to starvation? Selling out is doing things you don't want to do, but this album was something I very much wanted to do."

In 1999 Barrueco recorded ¡Cuba!, a project that carried him back to his own youth. "¡Cuba! is a beautifully recorded collection of works by a variety of composers from his homeland," noted Reynolds in the online interview. "I wanted the music to be very beautiful," Barrueco told Larry Harris in an interview appearing at his website, "really powerful, and I wanted it all to sound Cuban." In 2001 Barrueco joined with Al Di Meola, Andy Summers, and Steve Morse for an adventurous collection of genre-crossing instrumentals on Nylon & Steel. "Basically," Barrueco told Levy, "I tried to find some common ground with each of the players." Todd S. Jenkins of All About Jazz called the album "a meeting of minds from all sides of the Western musical experience.... Absolutely essential for acoustic guitar aficionados...."

Barrueco has introduced the classical guitar to new settings and broadened its appeal with stylistic innovations. "In order for the guitar to move forward," he told Reynolds in Guitar Review, "we have to figure out what it does best." He maintains a busy touring schedule, traveling from his home base in Baltimore to Munich, the Canary Islands, and San Francisco. Because his guitar, built by Matthias Dammann in 1995, is so integral to his performances, he often books an extra seat on airplanes for the instrument. He has appeared on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, A&E's Breakfast with the Arts, and CBS Sunday Morning, and one of his recordings was used for a Lexus car commercial. Whether playing classical music or probing jazz and rock, Barrueco remains committed to the art of the guitar. "Just do what you love," he explained to Ferguson, "and hope that people will accept it."

by Ronald D. Lankford Jr

Manuel Barrueco's Career

Emigrated to U.S., 1967; gave Carnegie Hall recital, 1974; recorded Sometime Agoand Manuel Barrueco Plays Lennon & McCartney, 1994; released Pure Barrueco, 1996; released Cuba!, 1999; released Nylon & Steel, 2001.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

This article really doesn't address the fact that Manuel Barrueco turned the guitar world upside down when he hit the scene, and is regarded by many as the greatest player of the modern era.