The other night, I was watching PBS (big shocker; that’s my nightly ritual. Yes, I’m basically an 80-year-old in a 32 year old’s body) and there was a special about a woman named Lydia Mendoza.
Lydia or, “La Alondra de la Frontera,” (The Lark of the Border) was born in Houston, Texas in May 1916. Her parents were very musical–her mother and grandmother actually taught her how to play guitar when she was a toddler! When Lydia was just four years old, she built her own guitar out of wood, nails, and rubber bands. Lydia and her sister performed with her parents in a family band named La Cuarteto Carta Blanca on the streets of Houston. One day, Lydia’s father found an ad in a local Spanish newspaper, looking for musical acts. The family performed and won the chance to travel to San Antonio to record for the Okeh record label.
Not long after, Lydia and her family moved to Michigan as migrant workers. They quickly built up a large fan base within their migrant community, with Lydia shining bright. The Mendoza family eventually moved back to San Antonio and resumed performing. In the early 1930’s, Manuel Cortez (a pioneer in Mexican-American broadcasting) saw Lydia perform and was immediately taken by her talent. He signed her and she recorded her first single, Mal Hombre. It was an instant success! Lydia toured the country with her family in tow.
Lydia accomplished great success in her career which spanned over 60 years, 50 records, and more than 200 songs. Her soulful style, 12-stringed guitar, and ability to write deep, meaningful songs has made her a pioneer and a legend within the Spanish-speaking music community. Lydia continued to perform–even playing at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration–and tour until she suffered a stroke in 1998. She has received numerous awards and acknowledgements: the National Heritage Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Folk Alliance International. And, in 2013, Lydia was honored with a commemorative stamp from the United Postal Service.
Gracias, Lydia, for your beautiful voice and amazing legacy!