Lalo Guerrero is internationally recognized as the "Father of Chicano Music." This legendary Mexican-American singer and composer has enjoyed a musical career of more than six decades, beginning with his classic Mexican hit "Cancion Mexicana" which he composed while still in his teens in his native and beloved Tucson, Arizona. It remains the un-official anthem of Mexico; the great Lucha Reyes of Mexico first made this song famous world wide in 1941, the recording went to number 1 on the Latin charts, and eventually became a standard, which many other artists went on to record.
It was the first of hundreds of songs composed and recorded by Lalo Guerrero and by various other popular recording artists, throughout an extraordinary recording and composing career with various recording labels including, Vocalion Records (1937), Imperial Records (1946), RCA Victor Records (1953), EMI Capitol (1962), his own record label Colonial Records (1957-'72) and Break Records (2001). His versatility was dazzling, writing, recording, and performing music in a myriad of musical styles, still unmatched by any artist. He composed boleros, Mexican rancheras, mambos, cha-cha’s, salsa, tejano, rock’n roll, comic parodies and even children's recordings with more than 25 hit albums of the hugely popular series, "Las Ardillitas de Lalo Guerrero". This was one of his greatest recording projects, he was probably best known for these recordings outside of the United States. These recordings were released worldwide, but were never widely release here in the States, that still remains a mystery as to why this occurred? Because the young and the old alike in Europe, Latin, Central and South America Lalo will now and forever be remembered as the father of “Las Ardillitas De Lalo Guerrero” and many generation still to come, he will always be that persona.
At the height of his recording years in the 1950's and 1960's, his music dominated the Latin American charts in the U.S., Mexico, Central, South America and through out Europe with as many as three hits in the top ten at the same time.
Celebrating his bi-cultural roots, this music pioneer and human rights activist was the first to write and record bilingual songs, and the first to bring American swing to Mexican music. The 1949 "Pacheco" swing hits such as "Chicas Patas Boogie”, “Vamos A Bailar” became popular again in 1977 when Luis Valdez brought them to the Los Angeles and to the Broadway, New York stage in the musical play "Zoot Suit" providing the play with it's biggest musical production numbers. The Broadway play was then produced into the Universal movie title “Zoot Suit”, directed by Luis Valdez.
Tender loving melodies such as the beautiful bolero "Nunca Jamas" (1956) and (2001), and comic songs as "Elvis Perez" (1957) and "La Minifalda de Reynalda" (1968), among many others, have become standards with today's top regional artists, who still record Lalo's great hits of years ago.
But, his music has done more than just entertain. It has recorded history in song and given voice to his Mexican-American people. Lalo's "corridos" have told of the triumphs and struggles of Mexican-American heroes like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Ruben Salazar among many, and brought their trials to a wide and varied audience. Lalo has also used his unparalleled humor in songs of social protest like "No Chicanos on TV”, shinning a spot light and asking the simple question, why?
Lalo Guerrero, considered a cultural icon in the Chicano culture, celebrated his 88th birthday on Christmas Eve of 2004, but the years have only added luster to an already distinguished career. In 1993, Paul Rodriguez invited Lalo Guerrero to co-host his popular talk/variety show, "El Nuevo Show de Paul Rodriguez" which aired nationally on Univision and throughout Mexico and Latin America bringing Lalo a huge new audience.
Los Lobos and Lalo collaborated in 1995 on a bilingual children's album, titled "Papa's Dream" and that collaboration garnered them both a Grammy Nomination.
January 1997 brought Lalo his highest honor to date - the 1996 National Medal of the Arts presented by President and Mrs. Hillary Clinton at a White House Ceremony for a lifetime of creative achievement. He considers that event the "pinnacle" of his professional career.
Though the honors have been many, including invitations from both the Carter and the Bush senior administrations to the White House. In 1980, the Smithsonian Institution declared Lalo Guerrero a "National Folk Treasure", receiving a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1991.
He has been inducted into the Tejano Hall of Fame and been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Mexican Cultural Institute representing the Mexican Government, Luis Valdez' The Teatro Campesino and Ricardo Montalban's Nosotros Organization among many other prestigious groups. Los Angeles and his adopted home of Palm Springs, California has named a street in his honor. Both cities have declared "Lalo Guerrero Days" among many other proclamations and various other awards from numerous other cities and organizations through out the United States.
Lalo Guerrero was born in the Barrio Viejo of Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1916. He was one of twenty-four children with only eight surviving to adulthood. His father's origins were from La Paz, Baja California and his mother was from Santa Ana, Sonor, Mexico. They were married in Cananea, Sonora and moved to Tucson in 1911 where they raised their family and remained their rest of their lives.
Lalo was greatly influenced by his mother, Concepcion, who sang and played the guitar, as Lalo quit often said, “beautifully”. She was his first and most influential music teacher, as Lalo learned from what he saw and experienced. It was his mother and father, Eduardo, Sr., who instilled a great love for Mexico and instilled in him its traditions, its music and its language; this would shape and mold Eduardo (Lalo) Guerrero, Jr. in his musical career, as the son would remember and use all this knowledge and skill to his musical advantage.
Lalo Guerrero has dedicated his life and musical career to the definition and enrichment of the Chicano experience. He has been quoted modestly, "I only wrote and sang about what I saw and what I experienced." But, in doing just that, he become musical historian of a unique culture, with roots in two cultures and two very different worlds.
This prolific artist continued creating and in a very recent composition, created the deeply emotional composition titled "Barrio Viejo", which is a tribute to his beloved childhood neighborhood, which bought a standing ovation of over 5,000 in attendance at the 1996 Tucson International Mariachi Conference where he shared the stage with Linda Ronstadt, Vikki Carr and Mariachi Cobra. He repeated that triumph composing a special English language lyric for the 1998 Alma Awards that aired to a national audience on ABC-TV with Jimmy Smits presenting Lalo with a special lifetime “Alama” award, and most recently his touching recording of “Barrio Viejo” is being applied with great emotional effect to the beautiful new musical play written by Ed Begley, Jr. The play deals in a fantasy of what if, and the after life of Cesar Chavez meets Ruben Salazar, the play is titled “Cesar and Ruben”.
Lalo, continued to take his music and message to venues across the country including a concerts at the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles and had enjoyed in particular performing at many colleges and universities through out the country, among such were Harvard where he again a new generation who adopted Lalo Guerrero as their own.
Lalo took his music further by traveling to Europe for the first time where he made his debut at the prestigious Cite Do Sone La Musique in Paris, France where he teamed with old friend Flaco Jimenez.
Lalo Guerrero, recorded his last musical CD on the Break Records label in 2001, at the age of 82, and again was under Grammy consideration for this CD. Benjamin Esparza and Justo Almario produced the great CD. This CD is titled “Vamos A Bailar-Otra Vez! With Lalo Guerrero” and was recorded when Lalo was 83 years young. The CD captured Mr. Guerrero in top form and in his musical elements, such as Big Band Latin Swing, Salsa, Rancheras, Nortinas, Corridos and Romantic Ballads. The CD features such notable friends and musicians as Justo Almario (Tolu), David Torres (Poncho Sanchez) and Mark Jones (The Brian Setzer Orch.). There is currently in the works a PBS film documentary on Lalo’s life to be titled “Lalo Guerrero the First Chicano”.
Lalo Guerrero was 88 years young, and I say young because Lalo never got old, despite his age, he remained hip up until his final day. Lalo passed away quietly, on March 17, 2005 in Rancho Mirage, California, only one block away from “Las Casuelas” the restaurant in which he performed for more than 25 years, at his side were Lidia his wife of more than 35 years, and his 2 children Jose Guerrero, Patricia, and his granddaughter Alana.
He once said to me, “Man, I feel, I’m the luckiest man ever, I never expected all this would happen to me, I never planned anything, things just seemed to happened, many good things, and some not so good, but I always felt that someone was holding my hand, leading me along, and showing me the way”, and indeed he was a lucky man, but I think that in Lalo’s case, his talent had a little to do with his lucky ways, and in a sense we all will be a little luckier in the end, for those of us who knew him, and those who knew of and about him, through his performances, his recordings, and for his wonderful music, which we can still enjoy over and over again. His music continues to be timeless, and as he often said, “ I hope my music makes people think a little of what is right, or maybe if it only brings a little smile or some laughter to some ones life, that would make me very happy!”
The legendary Lalo indeed brought much joy and put many smiles on so many faces. The “Music” will surely live on in the hearts and minds of children and hip adults everywhere, for many generations to come. When they listen they will discover the magic that was Lalo Guerrero, enjoy the music, humor and whit that was Lalo Guerrero.
Benjamin Esparza - Producer