Born Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar in Mexico, Manuel learned his musical notes before learning the letters of the alphabet. He had an early interest in composition, and he wrote La Marcha del Sarampion (March of the Measles) at age 9 when he got sick with the disease.
Manuel formally studied music in Mexico City. Then went to Europe to study in Germany where he was encouraged to incorporate his country’s folk music in his works, which he did to great success. His life changed one night when he heard classical guitarist Andres Segovia in concert. He was mesmerized by the skill and artistry, and struck up a long collaboration, composing works specifically for Segovia.