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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.

One of the first real vocal stars in Mexican-American music, Lydia Mendoza was a pioneer in another way as well: she was a woman in a man's world. "It's more difficult to build a career like I did for a woman than for a man," Mendoza recalled in the book, Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography. Mendoza's career lasted from the late 1920s through the 1980s, and her music embodied much of the odyssey Mexican Americans traveled in the twentieth century. She made over 1,200 recordings, and they spread her fame far beyond the Mexican neighborhoods in Texas where her music was born. Known as "La alondra de la frontera" or, "The Lark of the Border," Lydia Mendoza thrilled listeners everywhere with her passionate, despairing songs of two-timing men and love gone irrevocably wrong.

The second of eight children, Lydia Mendoza was born in Houston, Texas, on May 21, 1916. Her family came from northern Mexico, and they moved back and forth between Monterrey, Mexico, and south Texas several times during Lydia's childhood, as her father, Francisco, took jobs with the Mexican national railroad and with the Carta Blanca brewery. At the border, Mendoza later recalled, Americans, who were convinced that all Mexicans had head lice, poured gasoline in her hair. Mendoza's father was a music lover who admired opera singer Enrico Caruso, and her mother and maternal grandmother both played the guitar. When Mendoza was four she began to emulate them, creating her own guitar by nailing rubber bands into a plank of wood to make her own instrument.

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