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Arhoolie Records
Music Excerpts, Liner Notes, and Photos
All music excerpts, liner notes, and photos on this page are the property of:
Arhoolie Records, 10341 San Pablo Av., El Cerrito, CA 94530


tejano roots the women   animation

publicity photo of carmen and laura Before the decade of the 1930s, women's involvement in the Mexican entertainment world centered on the vaudeville theater stage, where many achieved renown as singers, comediennes, vedettes (dancers) and segúndas tiples (chorus girls). As far as recordings go, it wasn't until the late 1920s that the first female vocal duets and trios came into vogue, breaking away from the zarzuela-oriented solo and choral singing that had characterized Mexican musical theater since the turn of the century. Just how long Mexican female (and male, for that matter) duets have been popular on this side of the border is unclear. Charles Loomis of the Southwest Museum made over forty noncommercial cylinder recordings of the Villa sisters, Rosa and Luisa, accompanying themselves on guitar and mandolin in Los Angeles as early as 1904. By the mid-1920s the Herrera sisters recorded for the Sunset label in Los Angeles, and by the early 1930s the Posada sisters, Lupe and Virginia, had achieved local stardom in the Los Angeles area and the Aguilar sisters from Mexico were making highly touted appearances. A few years later Lydia Mendoza and her mother Leonor made many recordings in the dueto style for Blue Bird. However, the first female dueto this side of the border to make it really big both nationally and internationally billed as a sister duet were the Hermanas Padilla from Los Angeles. Sisters Margarita and María Padilla, who sang almost exclusively ranchera-type songs, pioneered a vocal style that widely influenced ranchera singing and created a demand for other female vocal duets.

By the 1940s, however, Mexican music in Texas had developed a sound and a market of its own, independent from the mainstream Mexican popular music industry. The Mexican population of Los Angeles came mainly from the central western states of Jalisco and Michoacan: birthplace of the mariachi. Direct contact was well established between the burgeoning entertainment business centers of Hollywood and Mexico City, intensively fostered in the ambiance of the race track and Prohibition-era nightclubs and casinos of Tijuana. On the other hand, in the region between, roughly, San Antonio, Texas and Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, a distinct musical culture had evolved that was not represented by the "Tin Pan Alley" productions of Los Angeles or Mexico City. By the late 1940s this unique regional sound was best typified by the combination of dueto singing accompanied by the accordion/bajo sexto conjunto, which came to be known as musica norteña, something that was not to be found at the time in either Southern California or Central Mexico.

photo of armando marroquin working in his recording studio Major recording companies in Mexico, especially Columbia, showed some awareness of the market for this new sound from the North by recording groups like Los Alegres de Teran and Los Montaneses del Alamo in Monterrey in the early 1950s. On the U.S. side of the border, however, it was up to local entrepreneurs to cater to the musical appetites of the regional market. Major U.S. labels had stopped producing regional music with the advent of World War II. While some early Los Angeles-based independent labels like Azteca did seek out performers from San Antonio such as Lydia and the Mendoza Sisters, the brunt of purveying the new musica norteña fell upon the Mexican-American businessmen of South Texas. Foremost among these was Armando Marroquín whose recording efforts for Paco Betancourt's Discos Ideal made it not only the very first and most prolific of the Texas labels, but also for many years the most representative of the artists and musical culture of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Whereas homegrown Rio Records of San Antonio and some of the Los Angeles independents recorded many of the more established performers from San Antonio, it was Marroquín who recorded hundreds and hundreds of sides by artists from Alice, Falfurrias, San Benito, Brownsville and other communities of the Lower Border region.

Vidita Mia (Canción)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Carmen and Laura -- Vocals; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded July 1946
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Narciso Martínez: "Father of the Texas-Mexican Conjunto"

Because Marroquín's first recording act was the dueto of his wife and sister-in-law, Ideal Records was intimately associated with the development of women's duets from the very beginning. He was also aware of the fact that the growing Tejano middle class was not especially fond of the accordion conjuntos which were associated with the lower classes. As a result of this realization he recorded his wife and her sister, and other singers too, backed not only by conjuntos but by Beto Villa and other orchestras.

Si fue por eso (Bolero)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Lydia Mendoza -- vocal; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded March 1954.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Narciso Martínez: "Father of the Texas-Mexican Conjunto"

A publicity photo of one of Las Hermanas Fragas,
Margarita Fraga. The relative success of some of the women singers in what was then essentially an all-male recording industry had its difficulties, given the traditional role that women were expected to play in conservative, patriarchal Hispanic society in the Southwest. Women were featured mainly as vocalists and as such were exploited, at least to a certain extent, for their sex appeal as much as their singing talent. It was de rigueur for a woman to retire from the stage if she married and devote her full attention to raising a family (Lydia Mendoza, Carmen y Laura, Eva Garza and Chelo Silva are all notable exceptions who in one way or another prove the rule). Given the censorious moral tone of the society, one can only surmise that many gifted women never sang outside of their own homes. Few women wrote songs for commercial presentation, and almost the whole repertory of ranchera and norteño music came largely from a man's point of view. This did not limit the depth of heart-felt emotions that these women expressed in their singing, and it is to their credit that they could turn many of these songs around. Curiously enough, it seems that the male patrons of the cantinas particularly enjoyed hearing songs expressing a wronged man's diatribe against female perfidy being sung by the sweet voices of women singers. Indeed, because Marroquín was primarily interested in providing product for jukeboxes, the songs heard on these recordings tend to reflect the tastes of cantina customers and include few songs primarily more appropriate for family participation. Nevertheless, the beauty and soulfulness of these classic recordings and the popularity these women enjoyed among the people of the Southwest all attest to their genuine contribution to the development of Tejano music. We owe them tribute for enriching the music of the world with their voices.

(Zack Salem, Jim Nicolopulos and Chris Strachwitz, 1991)

CARMEN Y LAURA
photo of carmen and laura with narciso martinez and santiago almeida Carmen and Laura Hernandez were born five years apart (1921 and 1926) in Kingsville, Texas. Carmen, the eldest, says that her entire family used to sing, but apart from her brother Lupe Hernandez, who played jazz, none of them dreamed of performing professionally until WW II. Carmen met her husband, Armando Marroquín, while he was in college in Kingsville, and the newlyweds settled down and went into the jukebox business in nearby Alice. Due to the wartime hiatus in record production in the U.S., they were obliged to buy records for their machines in Mexico. There was a great deal of red tape involved, and frustration with this gave Mr. Marroquín the idea of producing his own records. By the war's end it had become apparent that the major record labels were not interested in resuming production of regional material. Armando Marroquín, determined to supply his jukeboxes, then obtained recording equipment, including a disc cutter, and contracted with a company in California to press and distribute his recordings. He would take his portion of the profits in discs, which he would use in his own jukeboxes or sell directly to other regional jukebox operators. The recording itself took place in Carmen's kitchen, and since her sister had just returned from school in Mexico, Marroquín's first star group was the dueto of his wife and her sister: Carmen and Laura. According to Carmen, their first hit was Se Me Fue Mi Amor (RealAudio file | .au file) a song which laments the absence of a woman's beloved overseas in the Service. This song not only reflects the wartime atmosphere that still prevailed but is also unusual in presenting situations from the woman's point of view. A few months later, when Mr. Marroquín joined up with South Texas businessman Paco Betancourt to form Ideal Records, Carmen recalls with relief that they were at last able to move the recording studio out of her kitchen: "I got everybody out of my house. No more recording in the kitchen, it was a mess." poster image advertising a carmen and laura show from 1956Carmen and Laura continued to be among the most popular artists on the new label. They toured extensively in the years that followed, performing in Kansas City and Chicago as well as throughout the Southwest and California. The sisters recall that they were always accompanied by their husbands on the road and toured with dance bands such as those of popular Ideal recording artists Beto Villa or Pedro Bugarin from Arizona. Carmen and Laura never toured as part of caravanas like so many recording artists from Mexico would do; they would sing for dances in front of the orchestra, often performing for four hours a night. Other recordings by Carmen y Laura can be heard on Arhoolie CD 341, Tejano Roots, and other releases in that Ideal series. Carmen and Laura made hundreds of records for Ideal with all types of supporting musicians ranging from the accordion conjuntos of neighbor Isaac Figueroa, Narciso Martínez, and Paulino Bernal to Beto Villa and his Tejano orquesta.

Se Me Fue Mi Amor (Canción)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Carmen and Laura -- Vocals; with Isaac Figueroa -- Accordion.
Recorded 1945
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

(Jim Nicolopulos, based on interview with Carmen and Laura by John Clark, Alice, TX, 2/17/91.)

ROSITA FERNÁNDEZ
photo of rosita fernandez rehearsin with small band Rosita Fernández was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, while her father, a captain in the Mexican Army, was riding in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916. While Rosita was still a child, her family moved to San Antonio, where her maternal uncles earned their living as the Trio San Miguel. Young Rosita was recruited to sing with her uncles, and in 1932 won a radio singing contest which launched a long career in radio, and from 1949, in television too. Rosita made four motion pictures and many sound recordings, but she was perhaps best known in San Antonio for the 26 seasons she spent as star performer of the summer-long Fiesta Noche del Rio in that city.

Mi fracaso (Bolero) by Chabelita Noriega & Fidel Cuellar

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Cuellar
Rosita Fernández -- vocals; with Conjunto Ideal.
Recorded July 1950.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)
Perdon Mujer (Ranchera) by Gilberto Parra

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Las Abajeñas -- vocals; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded May 1948.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

ROSITA Y LAURA
Rosita Fernandez (see #7) and Laura Cantu made some beautiful records together. Their voices blended superbly and the backing of Beto Villa's orquesta is just perfect.

LAS ABAJEÑAS (Catalina and Victoria)
These two women, probably from Northern Mexico, made only a few recordings with Narciso Martínez, who was Ideal Records' "house musician." Martínez backed up many singers and was also a very popular and successful accordionist on his own.

LAS HERMANAS SEGOVIA
publicity photo of las hermanas segovia aurelia and lucita Armando Marroquín was a very perceptive record producer who tried to reach the largest audience possible, especially with many of the women singers, by putting together back-up bands which combined the sound of the accordion conjuntos with orchestras and even mariachis. Each of these sounds appealed to a different strata of Tejano society. Conjunto Ideal, in this case including the remarkably tight interplay between trumpet (probably Pepe Compian) and clarinet (probably Tito Arredondo), created a sound which crossed over and attracted a wide range of listeners.

No Quiero Esperar (Bolero)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Hermanas Segovia-- vocals; with Mariachi Ideal.
Recorded September 1950.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

DELIA Y LAURA
Delia Gutiérrez and Laura Cantu (of Carmen y Laura). Delia Gutiérrez was born in Weslaco, Texas, in 1931. She began singing with the orquesta of her father, Eugenio Gutiérrez, when she was eight years old. Delia grew up to be a popular singer and recorded for both Ideal and rival Falcon records. After her father's death she continued to sing with her husband's band, the Moy Pineda Orquesta.

Contestacion a mi cafetal (Canción)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Delia y Laura -- vocals; with Orquesta de Eugenio Gutiérrez.
Recorded January 1952.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)
Julia! Julia! (Ranchera) by José Verduzco

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Delia Gutiérrez and Laura Hernandez -- Vocals.
Recorded January 1952
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 368
Orquesta Tejana: The Formative Years (1947-1960)

LAS HERMANAS GUERRERO
publicity photo of las hermanas guerrero, maria luisa and felipa María Luisa (who sings #16 solo) and Felipa Guerrero were from South Texas and are backed here by Jimmy Morgan's Conjunto. Morgan also made a number of fine records on his own about this time (1960).

La Casada (Ranchera) by E. Raud & R. Ortega

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Hermanas Guerrero (María Luisa & Felipa) -- vocals; with Conjunto Jimmy Morgan.
Recorded July 1960.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

LAS HERMANAS CANTU
The Cantu sisters were born in Falfurrias, Texas. Nori (b.1935) and Ninfa (b.1937) began touring with the Beto Villa orchestra and recording for Ideal as the prize for winning a singing contest in Alice, Texas. They were joined by their younger sister Nellie (b.1943) in 1956. The Cantu sisters also recorded for many of the other regional labels that sprang up in imitation of Discos Ideal, and although Ninfa got married and retired in 1961, Nori and Nellie continued recording and performing until 1978. They are backed here by a very young Paulino Bernal on accordion, soon to be a star of conjunto music.

LAS HERMANAS FRAGA
Las Hermanas Fraga also recorded for the Los Angeles-based labels and this session may in fact have been recorded in California.

La Que Sea (Ranchera)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Hermanas Cantú (Ninfa & Nori) -- vocals; with Conjunto Bernal.
Recorded February 1955.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)
Amor Pendiente (Ranchera) by Luis M. Moreno

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Las Hermanas Fraga -- vocals; with Mariachi México del Norte.
Recorded 1948.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)


CHELO SILVA
Chelo Silva (1922-1988) was born in Brownsville. She began her career there at the Continental Club and made her first recording for Discos Falcon in 1954, at that time the main competitor of Ideal. She went on to perform in Mexico, South America and throughout the U.S. and during the late 1950s was probably the bestselling female Hispanic recording artist on either side of the border. Chelo Silva was principally known as a singer of boleros, and is not to be confused with the Mexican singer Chelo who achieved great popularity as a ranchera singer in the 1970s. Along with Lydia Mendoza, Chelo Silva was known as one of the "Grandes de Texas," the two "Texas Greats."

Si acaso vuelves (Bolero) by Emilio Barney

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Chelo Silva -- vocals.
Recorded March 1957.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 343
Tejano Roots: The Women (1946-1970)

HERMANAS MENDOZA
María (1922-1990) and Juanita (b.1927) Mendoza were both born in Monterrey, N.L. María, like her sister Lydia, an accomplished string musician as well as a singer, was already part of the Mendoza family group that began singing in the Plaza del Zacate in 1932. Little sister Juanita learned singing, dancing and comic routines in the carpas (tent shows) where her mother Leonor and older sisters would appear during these years. After sister Lydia's success as a recording artist, both Maria and Juanita would hone their talents as part of the family variedad that toured until 1941. During the war years, while Lydia temporarily retired to concentrate on raising her children, Juanita and María achieved local success singing as the dueto Hermanas Mendoza. After the war, Juanita and Maria resumed touring along with sister Lydia and the family variedad. Recordings on the Azteca label from Los Angeles, however, revealed that the dueto of the Hermanas Mendoza had a tremendous appeal all its own. They toured and recorded extensively on their own until shortly after their mother's death in 1952. As so often seems to have happened, it was the marriage of one of the sisters that brought this seminal dueto to a premature end while still in its prime.

Arrancame el Corazón (Vals Ranchera)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Juanita & María Mendoza -- vocals; with Narciso Martínez -- Accordion.
Recorded April 1951.
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 361
Narciso Martínez: "Father of the Texas-Mexican Conjunto"

LYDIA MENDOZA
publicity photo of lydia mendoza Lydia Mendoza was born in Houston, Texas in 1916. Her family moved frequently, but Lydia was able to learn to sing and play stringed instruments from both her grandmother and her mother, Leonor, in Monterrey, N.L. The Mendoza family moved definitively back to Texas in 1927, and Lydia, as part of the family group Cuarteto Carta Blanca, made her first recordings for the OKeh company in San Antonio in the spring of the following year. The family spent the years between 1928-35 playing for tips in the streets, markets and parks of Texas and the Midwest. From 1932-35 the family performed in the Plaza del Zacate (Haymarket Square) in San Antonio, where Lydia came to the attention of Manuel J. Cortez, a pioneer of Mexican-American radio broadcasting. Lydia's local success as a live radio performer set the stage for her recordings for the Blue Bird company in 1934, one of which, "Mal Hombre," became an overnight success of unprecedented proportions. This led to an intensive career of touring and recording that was interrupted only by WW II. After the war Lydia resumed her career and recorded for all of the important postwar Mexican-American labels, including Discos Ideal. Although Lydia dominates an incredibly broad repertoire of songs, she has composed relatively few herself. One of her personal favorites, however, is "Amor Bonito," which she wrote thinking of her husband while out on tour. Lydia Mendoza was undeniably the first real female star of Mexican-American music; and her recordings, both solo and with the family group, undoubtedly inspired many of the other female artists who are heard in this collection. Lydia continued performing and recording until 1988, when a stroke slowed her career.

Feliz Sin Ti (Bolero)

(RealAudio file | .au file)
Lydia Mendoza; with Beto Villa's Orchestra.
Recorded August 1950
Music excerpt courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Ideal/Arhoolie CD 341
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music

Liner notes courtesy of Arhoolie Records.
Tejano Roots: The Women. Ideal/Arhoolie CD-343

Materials copyrighted by Arhoolie Records.
Presentation of these materials on UT Library Online by the General Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin was made possible under a limited license grant from the creator who has retained all copyrights to the works.


Return to  Border Cultures: Conjunto Music - Index Page

Arhoolie Records: Tejano Roots
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music / Orquestas Tejanas: the Formative Years / San Antonio's Conjuntos in the 1950s / Narciso Martínez / The Women

Arhoolie Records Exhibit: Part 2
Norteño Acordeon Part 1: The First Recordings / Narciso Martínez "El Huracan del Valle": His first recordings 1936-1937


Last updated: March 5, 2004.
Created by: Craig Schroer - Electronic Services Librarian
Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Please send comments to: schroer@mail.utexas.edu

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