Known as "la cancionera de los pobres," Lydia Mendoza was born in Houston in 1916. Musically talented from an early age, she began singing with her family in 1928, when the Mendozas recorded their first record for the Columbia subsidiary OKeh. The Mendozas were one of the first tejano groups recorded by the American major labels. By 1934, now with the Bluebird label (RCA Victor), Lydia had launched her own pioneering solo career, recording such memorable songs as "Mal hombre" ("Evil Man") and "Pero hay qué triste" ("But, Oh, How Sad"). Although she recorded with a variety of instrumental groups during her storied career, Lydia Mendoza is best remembered for the inimitable style she created, which features her twelve-string guitar as the sole accompaniment to her soulful voice. Mendoza's career spanned over 60 years, during which she recorded over 50 LPs and some 200 songs with various labels, both large and small. As a recipient of the National Heritage Award, as well as the National Medal of the Arts, she is justifiably recognized as one of America's great roots music singers.
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Mendoza's classic recordings are available on four stunning CDs on Arhoolie Records (arhoolie.com). These are but a small part of the over fifty CDs released by Chris Strachwitz on his Arhoolie label covering the history of tejano music and serving as the best place to start to discover this glorious music. A detailed biography gives a fascinating picture of Mendoza's life and that of other Mexican musicians in Texas: Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography compiled and introduced by Chris Strachwitz and James Nicolopulos (Univ of Houston Press, 1993). More recently, a bi-lingual autobiography has been issued this year by Oxford University Press, Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez, Lydia Mendoza's Life in Music / La Historia de Lydia Mendoza. Mendoza can also be seen in Chulas Fronteras, Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz's classic documentary on Tex Mex music. This documentary and the other one that Les Blank and Strachwitz made on tejano music, Del Mero Corazon are available on one videotape.
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