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Lydia Mendoza

Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez

One of the most talented and popular musicians in the history of Tejano music, Lydia Mendoza, La Alondra de la Frontera (The Lark of the Border), was born into a musical family of Mexican immigrants in Houston in 1916. At the age of four, she built her own guitar out of wood, nails, and rubber bands. She performed on the streets with her family’s band, La Cuarteto Carta Blanca, which won an audition in San Antonio for Okeh Records in 1928, recording 20 songs for $140. The family traveled to Michigan as migrant workers, but returned to San Antonio in the 1930s and resumed performing, notably in the city’s Plaza del Zacate, earning just enough money to pay rent and buy food.

In 1934 Mendoza recorded what would become her signature song, “Mal Hombre,” for Bluebird Records. It quickly became a hit, and she toured extensively, both with her family and as a solo act, becoming particularly famous along the Texas-Mexico border. Her soulful singing voice and her mastery of the 12-string guitar brought legions of fans to celebrate her career, which continued until she suffered a stroke in 1988. Invited by President Jimmy Carter to perform at his inauguration, she also won numerous awards including the National Medal of Arts, and inclusion in the Tejano Music Hall of Fame and Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. She died in 2007 at age 91.

Resources

Burnett, John. “Lydia Mendoza: The First Lady of Tejano.” National Public Radio, May 24, 2010, transcript at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127033025.

“Mendoza, Lydia.” The Grove Dictionary of American Music. Oxford University Press online, 2013.

“Mendoza, Lydia,” Colin Larkin, ed. Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Oxford University Press online, 2009.

“Mendoza, Lydia.” Suzanne Oboler and Deena J. González, eds. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States. Oxford University Press online, 2012.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, "MENDOZA, LYDIA," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fme81).

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