Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography » Lydia Mendoza: 1916—: Tejano Vocalist, Songwriter Biography - Learned Song From Gum Wrapper, Feared Records Would Cut Demand, Married Second Shoemaker

Lydia Mendoza: 1916—: Tejano Vocalist, Songwriter - Learned Song From Gum Wrapper

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Mendoza was still a girl in Monterrey when she learned the song that would become her signature number for much of her career. She was in the habit of collecting chewing gum wrappers that had song lyrics printed on them, and when her father took her to a concert in Monterrey she was able to put a tune to a set of lyrics she liked called "Mal hombre." The family would eventually began performing as La Familia Mendoza in the late 1920s, with Lydia on mandolin, passing the hat in restaurants and shops up and down the border until they had saved enough money to reestablish themselves permanently in the United States in 1927.

As Mendoza's father's health worsened, the family began to rely more and more on music for their income. In 1928 Francisco Mendoza spotted an advertisement in a San Antonio newspaper stating that the New York-based OKeh recording company hoped to record Spanish-language musicians. The $140 the newly christened Cuarteto Carta Blanca was paid for recording 20 songs came as a godsend—however exploitative such a payment might seem today. Even though the Mendozas were now recording artists, they still traveled to find work when possible. When they got word of profitable farm work in Michigan they quickly relocated and spent several years working and performing in small restaurants in Pontiac and Detroit.

At a Glance . . .


Born on May 21, 1916, in Houston, TX; grew up partly in Monterrey, Mexico; married Juan Alva-rado (a shoemaker), 1935 (died 1961); married Fred Martínez (a shoemaker), 1964; children: (first marriage) three.


Career: Singer, 1927-1988; recorded over 1,200 singles and albums with numerous south TX labels; performed with La Familia Mendoza, 1927-40, 1945-1952; solo career, 1934-1988; featured in film Chulas Fronteras, 1979.


Selected awards: National Heritage Award, 1984.


Addresses: Home—Houston, TX. Label—c/o Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, CA 94530-3123.




Back in Texas after the Great Depression dried up Michigan's prosperity, the Mendozas began performing at an outdoor market in San Antonio called La Plaza de Zacate. Around 1934 the host of the San Antonio Spanish-language radio program "La voz latina" was eating dinner in the plaza area and heard Lydia, who by that point was the groups lead vocalist, singing. He invited her to sing on the radio, but the family initially refused to give her time off from what was then their main source of income. After Lydia sang two songs, the station was deluged with calls asking for her return. The manufacturer of a local vitamin drink called Tónico Ferro-Vitamina agreed to sponsor her appearances for three dollars and fifty cents a week, and Lydia Mendoza was on her way to success.


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