Profile: Lifelong Musician Finds Fans in Nursing Home

Wilfredo Ruiz plays his Tremolo Sextet harmonica. (Photo by Flonia Telegrafi / Hunt's Point Express)

Blind and wheelchair-bound, Wilfredo Ruiz maintains his vitality through music, The Hunt’s Point Express reported in a profile of the 69-year-old Bronx nursing home resident:

When Wilfredo Ruiz puts his harmonica to his lips, the elderly Puerto Rican residents of St. Vincent de Paul nursing home gather around his wheelchair.

Sometimes some of them dance. They sway to distinctive rhythms of traditional plena, Aguinaldos and romantic boleros from the island. Others, reminded of the music of their childhoods, sing.

Music has been the theme of Ruiz’s life since his childhood in Puerto Rico, reporter Flonia Telegrafi writes:

Ruiz acquired his first instrument, a 5-cent harmonica, in 1957, when he was 15. With no formal training, he taught himself how to play by imitating the songs he heard on his father’s radio until he got them right.

Today, he plays a Tremolo Sextet harmonica, an instrument that is six harmonicas in one, each tuned to a different key. The sophisticated instrument allows him to produce warm tones and includes a larger range than the dime-store harmonica he learned on.

Ruiz quickly turned his musical talents and love of performing into a profession. Young men would hire him to serenade their girlfriends. An avid singer, Ruiz would perform the songs of Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernandez and other Puerto Rican composers, playing his harmonica while a friend accompanied him on guitar.

Even in his nursing home, Ruiz has found outlets for his music:

Each week, he performs in St. Vincent’s chapel, accompanying the choir during services on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Most days, Ruiz chooses to spend time in his room. He listens to the radio and whenever he hears a song, he tries to play it on his harmonica. A fan of world music, he can play anything if he hears it once. His repertoire, to which he recently added a Russian song, is wide.

On Veteran’s Day, Ruiz volunteered to perform “The Star Spangled Banner” when staff members misplaced the nursing home’s CD of the anthem. His rendition is below. For more of his music and story, visit The Hunt’s Point Express.

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