Hernández's family moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in the 1940s, in search of a better way of life. They settled down in the South Bronx, a ghetto, which is a section that is heavily populated by latinos in New York where Hernández was born. Hernández who was the youngest of eleven siblings, received his primary and secondary education in the city's public school system.
As a child he was exposed to the music of Tito Puente, Tito Rodr'guez and Willie Colón among others. He would also sneak into nightclubs to watch and listen to the music of Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and Richie Ray. Hernández was determined to leave the ghetto after witnessing the death of one of his brothers. In 1966, he took trumpet playing classes at a local Boys Club. Two years later someone gave his brother a piano, which he kept in the basement of the apartment building where the family lived. Some of the local musicians, who would get together and jam in the basement, showed Hernández the basics of piano playing, the rest was self-taught.
Hernández began playing with some local bands, among them was Joey Pastrana and La Conquistadora, with whom he made his recording debut with "Don Pastrana". In 1972, he was hired by Ismael Miranda and after playing with Miranda he went to work for Ray Barretto. With Barretto, he gained experience in musical arrangements and was introduced to the jazz music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Hernández played an instrumental role in the recording of "Rican Struction", which is considered as a Latin classic. After six years with Barretto, he met Rubén Blades and joined his group Seis Del Solar.
Hernández enrolled in the City University of New York. His professors were lenient because they understood that he was often on tour, Eventually he earned his bachelor's degree in Music. Hernández has performed with Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Julio Iglesias, Juan Luis Guerra, Willie Colón, Oscar D'León and for the groups Libre and Folkorico Experimental. He also produced records for Rubén Blades, Willie Colón, Daniel Ponce, Rafael DeJesus, Eddie Torres and Phil Hernandez.
Hernández was the founder, music director and pianist for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. This came about when he met Erin Levinson, a music producer who had a contract with Warner Brothers. The idea of forming a group came about and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra was born. The group received a Grammy Award nomination in 2002 for "Best Salsa Album, a Billboard Award in 2003 for "Salsa Album of the year and in 2005 a Grammy Award for "Best Salsa Album".
Ron Di Salvio
Dominic J. Marshall