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Lydia Mendoza: 1916—: Tejano Vocalist, Songwriter - Married Second Shoemaker

texas arhoolie music american

But Mendoza herself soldiered on as a solo act into the 1980s, making hundreds of records for an enormous variety of small south Texas labels including Azteca, Ideal, Falcón, Imperial, DLB, and Columbia México. Her backing musicians included conjunto groups, mariachi bands, and electric guitars as well as, on occasion, her own guitar. She toured widely through Texas, the Southwest, and even in South America. While a few collections of her work exist, her music of this period remains largely unexplored by historians. Mendoza's husband died in 1961, and she married another shoemaker, Fred Martínez, three years later.

Awareness of Mendoza's importance spread beyond the Latin American community when she was discovered by Chris Strachwitz, a German-born California record collector and the owner of the folk-oriented Arhoolie label. Strachwitz issued several LP compilations of Mendoza's early work, recorded new material by Mendoza in the 1980s, and, Mendoza recalled, played records she had made in her younger days but never actually had the chance to hear. In the 1970s and 1980s Mendoza performed at several large festivals of traditional music, and in 1979 she was featured in the seminal documentary Chulas Fronteras. In 1984 she received the National Heritage Award.

Mendoza made Houston her home base and finally retired from performing in 1988. Historians began to recognize how much she had to tell, not only about the history of Mexican-American music in Texas, but also about the experience of Mexican Americans in general. She and other members told their story to Strachwitz in the 1980s and early 1990s; the book that resulted was Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography in 1993. Another autobiographical narrative, Lydia Mendoza's Life in Music, was slated to appear in 2003. In 1999 Lydia Mendoza was named the Texas Voice of the Century by Texas Monthly magazine, edging out country vocalist George Jones. Writer Joe Nick Patoski called Mendoza "the greatest Mexican American female performer ever to grace a stage."

Selected discography

La Gloria de Texas, Arhoolie, 1981.

Mal Hombre and Other Original Hits, Arhoolie, 1992.

First Queen of Tejano Music, Arhoolie, 1996.

Vida Mia: 1934-1939, Arhoolie, 1999.

La Alondra de la Frontera: Live, Arhoolie, 2001.

Texas-Mexican Border Music, Vols. 15 & 16, Arhoolie.



Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.

Notable Hispanic American Women, Gale, 1993.

Strachwitz, Chris, and James Nicopulos, compilers, Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography, Arte Público Press, 1993.


Texas Monthly, December, 1999, p. 142.


"Lydia Mendoza," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (March 20, 2003).

—James M. Manheim

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