LatinaLista — Her name was Lydia Mendoza and she had a gift that captured the ears and hearts of all who heard her.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: SAN ANTONIO – Lydia Mendoza, a Tejano music pioneer known as “The Lark of the Border,” has died. She was 91.
Mendoza, who retired and moved from Houston to San Antonio in 1988 after a series of strokes, died Thursday of natural causes at the Nix Medical Center. She had lived in the nursing home portion of the Chandler Estate for the last three years.
Mendoza, who scored her first big hit “Mal Hombre” (this link has tracks from her most famous songs) in the 1930s, became one of the era’s first Mexican American superstars by singing to the poor and downtrodden.
Over time, Mendoza became known as La Alondra de la Frontera (The Lark of the Border), La Cancionera de los Pobres (Songstress of the Poor) and La Gloria de Tejas (The Glory of Texas).
“She was the first and only real voice of Mexican Americans,” said Arhoolie Records owner Chris Strachwitz, who co-wrote 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.”
Her memorable musical style earned her a National Medal of the Arts and a National Heritage Award fellowship. She was also asked to sing at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977.
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. In addition to pursuing a solo career, she also enjoyed performing with her family.
“Mal Hombre (Evil Man),” released in 1934 on the Bluebird label, became a hit on both sides of the border and was her signature song. Other hits included “La Valentina” and “Angel de Mis Anhelos.”
South Texas Conjunto Association Executive Director Lupe Saenz called Mendoza a trailblazer.
“She set the trend for others, Las Hermanas Cantu, Chelo Silva, Las Rancheritas, and other women who followed Mendoza’s lead in the world of Spanish music,” he said. “Mendoza will be remembered for her unique style of the 12-string guitar and unique voice and style of singing that set her apart from all others.”
Born in Houston, Mendoza learned to sing and play the 12-string guitar before she was 12, and later learned to play violin and mandolin. In 1928, her family landed a recording session at the Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio with the Okeh label, which generated five singles.
In 1999, Mendoza received the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony in which she shared the stage with Aretha Franklin, producer-director Norman Lear, architect Michael Graves and sculptor George Segal.
Then-President Bill Clinton praised Mendoza’s voice and the gift of her songs.
“Lydia learned much from the oral tradition of Mexican music that her mother and grandmother shared with her,” Clinton said. “In turn, she shared it with the world, becoming the first rural American woman performer to garner a large following throughout Latin America.”
Mendoza, who was the guest of honor at a 2006 tribute concert in San Antonio, was also inducted into the Tejano Music Awards, Tejano Conjunto Festival and Texas Women halls of fame.
Mendoza is survived by her daughter, Yolanda Hernandez. She was preceded in death by two daughters, Lydia Alvarado Davila and Leonor Salazar.