December 22, 2007

I was really sad to see that the great Lydia Mendoza has just died.

She died peacefully, at least, not the victim of a drug gang.

She was one of the great Mexican-American singers with a striking sound, tremendous presence and a truly great sound on the 12 string guitar. We listen to her all the time (she passes muster around here with the powers that be when often Chalino Sanchez does not).

A good biography with a live disc came out a few years ago, you can get it for really cheap too for some reason.

Here is an article about her from her (adopted) hometown paper. I am cutting it a bit, so click through to read the whole thing:

In the 1930s during her first tours across the Southwest, Lydia Mendoza scored her first hit —— "Mal Hombre." But with that song and her constant touring, Mendoza, "The Lark of the Border," became the first Mexican American superstar of her age.

Mendoza, 91, died Thursday at the Nix Medical Center of natural causes.

A series of strokes prompted her retirement in 1988. She left her home in Houston and moved to San Antonio. The past three years, she had lived in the nursing home portion of the Chandler Estate.

Her daughter Yolanda Hernandez said Mendoza remained alert almost until her death.

"She recognized everyone who came to visit her. She died peacefully," Hernandez said.

Unlike other stars of her time who sang in a dramatic theatrical style, Mendoza "sang in a natural style," said Arhoolie Records owner Chris Strachwitz. "She had a beautiful voice."

But perhaps Mendoza will be remembered mostly for her compassion as she sang for everyone, especially the poor and the downtrodden.

"She was the first and only real voice of Mexican Americans," said Strachwitz, who with James Nicolopulos compiled an autobiography of the Mendoza family for Arte Publico Press. "People always told me that Lydia sang to every class. She sang to the poor, and the wealthy loved her too."....

Born in Houston, Mendoza learned to sing and play the 12-string guitar by the time she was 12. Later, she learned to play violin and mandolin. In 1928, her family responded to a newspaper ad and landed a recording session at the Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio with the Okeh label, which generated five singles.

Mendoza said she felt lucky because learning to sing and play guitar came easily.

"I learned really young. And I think when someone learns at a very young age, it is not as hard as when someone tries to learn at an older age," she said in a 2001 interview.

Mendoza recorded more than 200 songs on more than 50 albums, including boleros, rancheras, cumbias and tangos for such labels as RCA, Columbia, Azteca, Peerless, El Zarape and Discos Falcon. While she pursued her solo career, she also enjoyed performing with her family, which went by the stage names of Las Hermanas Mendoza or the Mendoza family.

Like other entertainers of that period, the family played at many carpas (tent shows), sometimes for a few pennies. They also performed at San Antonio's Plaza del Zacate.

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