Singer and guitarist Lydia Mendoza passed away on December 20 at the age of 91. Born in Houston, Texas, Mendoza became a beloved voice of working-class Mexican-Americans. Known affectionately as the ”Lark of the Border,” she was a trailblazer—the first Tejano star of her generation, and the first woman to sing and play a musical instrument in a prominent Tejano band. Mendoza sang songs learned from her mother and grandmother in a graceful, natural style that was a refreshing departure from the dramatic style then popular. Encouraged by her family (including her mother, who was a guitarist), Mendoza was playing the 12-string guitar by the time she was 12, and the violin and mandolin soon after. In 1928, her family answered a newspaper ad that led to recording sessions at the Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio. The music from these sessions resulted in five records on the Okeh label.
Mendoza eventually recorded more than 200 songs—boleros, rancheras, cumbias, and tangos—and she appeared on more than 50 albums. She often played alone, but also performed with her family at tent shows as Las Hermanas Mendoza and the Mendoza Family. Her first hit, “Mal Hombre,” recorded in 1934 on the Bluebird label, established her popularity on both sides of the border, and was followed by other popular recordings, such as “La Valentina” and “Angel de Mis Anhelos,” which established her place in Latin music history.
She received many honors and awards, including a 1999 National Medal of the Arts presented by President Clinton, a 1982 National Heritage Fellowship, and induction into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.