After Christmas caroling through the streets of Puerto Rico for the first time, singing under strings of holiday lights with friends and family, then-7-year-old José Valentino Ruiz fell in love with music.
“I told my dad that night that I wanted to become a musician,” he said.
Ruiz, now a 35-year-old UF School of Music assistant professor of music business and entrepreneurship who has been at UF since 2019, is nominated for two awards in the 23rd annual Latin Grammy Awards: Best Christian Album in a Spanish Language for “Viviré” and Best Latin Children’s Album for “A La Fiesta de la Música Vamos Todos.” The album “A La Fiesta de la Música Vamos Todos” was created in collaboration with a team of professors and students from the School of Music.
The nominations aren’t Ruiz’s first. In 2015, he was nominated for Best Latin Jazz album, and in 2016, he was nominated for Best Instrumental Album. Ruiz also won an Emmy for Best Cultural Documentary in 2018, a Latin Grammy for Best Christian Album in a Spanish Language in 2019 and a Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2020.
While all these awards hold a special place in his heart, he said, nothing beats being nominated for a project where he had the opportunity to partner with a group of talented musicians.
More than 100 different musicians from 20 different countries contributed to the production of this album, he said, including UF students and faculty.
“This is the most special one,” he said. “My dream was always to be up for a Grammy with students and professors.”
The album, “A La Fiesta de la Música Vamos Todos,” was completed in summer 2022 over the span of two weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic prepared the team for the challenge that was creating music remotely, Ruiz said.
Thaddaeus Bourne, a 41-year-old UF visiting music professor, worked on “A La Fiesta de la Música Vamos Todos” as a background vocalist. The experience was a great way to explore creating music in different languages, he said.
“It's always a lot of fun for me singing in other languages,” Bourne said. “I really enjoyed studying the different dialects in Spanish and working with José [Ruiz] to make it sound more authentic.”
Bourne has performed abroad in seven different countries, including Mexico, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Still, he said, working with Ruiz and teaching at UF has been an enriching experience beyond traveling and performing music.
“I love my job so much that for me, it’s a reward just to get up and do it,” he said.
Music has always been a significant part of his life, Bourne said, and sharing it with people who share his passion has been incomparable.
Chris Shelton, a 46-year-old UF doctoral student studying composition, was the recording engineer for the album. Seeing the project get such esteemed recognition has been a wonderful feeling, he said.
“All the hard work that everyone has put into this is being recognized,” Shelton said. “That's always a really nice thing.”
But this initial recognition is only the beginning.
The caliber of the Latin Grammy Awards is extremely tough, Ruiz said — about 20,000 albums are submitted for the competition each year.
Silviu Ciulei, a 37-year-old UF guitar studies professor and award-winning guitarist, said the collaboration was the best part of creating the album.
“I always enjoy working with my colleagues,” he said. “We're like a big family here at the UF School of Music, and everybody jumps in to help whenever.”
Ciulei, who played guitar and contributed background vocals for the 15-track record, spent several years in Spain studying Flamenco music — a predominant style of music on the album.
Derris Lee, a 24-year-old graduate assistant in the UF School of Music, was responsible for adding percussion elements to the record. This is the first time he’s been recognized for such a prestigious award, he said.
“I was just so grateful,” Lee said. “Continuing to work hard and staying connected, and definitely collaborating is a big part of this success.”
The Latin Grammy Awards will take place Nov. 17 in Las Vegas. Ruiz, along with the team of collaborators, will be traveling for the award ceremony — joining Christina Aguilera, John Legend, Bad Bunny and other well-known nominated performing artists.
“To be among them in that particular space is an amazing feature that never gets old,” Ruiz said.
Contact Ashleigh Lucas at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @ashlucas01.
Ashleigh Lucas is a second-year journalism student at the University of Florida and the photo and video editor for The Alligator. She previously worked as a photographer and videographer at The Alligator, and was the photo and video editor in the fall of 2022. In her freetime she enjoys binge-watching cheesy TV shows, practicing her photography skills and reading any book she can get her hands on.