Raphael Baez, Sr. can be counted as one of the first Mexicans ever to call Milwaukee home. Born in Puebla, Mexico in 1863, Baez began his musical education at the age of nine. From the start, the youngster displayed a remarkable ability to understand and transpose even the most difficult of compositions.1 Completing his academic studies at the College of Arts and Industries with first place awards in arithmetic and composition, Baez began his career as a professional musician at the age of fourteen. He moved to the City of Mexico, where he secured a position with the Grand National Theater as a violinist.
In the spring of 1884 Baez toured the main cities of Mexico with the C.D. Hess Opera Company (a precursor of the Florentine Opera Company). Hess, impressed with the young musician’s talents, invited Baez to the United States at the close of the season. Baez eventually settled in Milwaukee, where he accepted the position of organist and musical director at Gesu Church, one of the city’s most prominent churches. Growing in his skills as an organist, director, and composer, Baez entered into a very successful career, later playing at St. John’s Cathedral, Temple Emanu-El, and a local opera company.2 After years of conducting private music lessons for the children of Milwaukee’s elite, Baez eventually became the first Mexican professor at Marquette University, where he taught music. Baez passed away in 1930 after an illustrious musical career.
On May 23, 1889 Baez married Maria Schoen, a noted vocalist in her own right. In later years, the couple would perform together at Milwaukee venues like the Athenaeum. They had three children.3 Raphael, the oldest, served as an officer in the Air Corps during World War II. His brother Francis served as an officer of the Navy during the war, and returned to Milwaukee after his military service to work at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance for over thirty-five years. Their sister Mary worked at the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks during World War II.
Object story created October 2013.
- Andrew J. Aikens and Lewis Proctor, ed., Men of Progress. Wisconsin. A selected list of biographical sketches and portraits of the leaders in business, professional and official life. Together with short notes on the history and character of Wisconsin (Milwaukee: Evening Wisconsin Press Company: 1897), 465. ↩
- Joseph A. Rodriguez and Walter Sava, Latinos in Milwaukee (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2006), 10. ↩
- Men of Progress, 466. ↩