In tribute to the legends responsible for making American music part of global popular culture, the U.S. Postal Service announced the launch of a new Music Icons stamp series with the issuance of a stamp honoring Lydia Mendoza, one of the first and greatest stars of Tejano music.
The Lydia Mendoza Forever Stamp was dedicated during a special ceremony featuring actor Jesse Borrego as master of ceremony at the Guadalupe Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX. Mendoza is the first to be honored in the Postal Service’s new Music Icons series, which will include legends Ray Charles and Johnny Cash later this year.
“The Postal Service is proud to introduce its new Music Icons stamp series with the issuance of this Forever Stamp honoring the first lady of Tejano music, Lydia Mendoza,” said Marie Therese Dominguez, vice president, Government Relations and Public Policy. “Mendoza was a true American pioneer, whose unique voice and style of singing, paved the way for a whole new generation of Latino performers. Her impact on music guarantees her place in American music history, and today her legacy continues on 30 million postage stamps.”
Known as La Alondra de la Frontera , the Lark of the Border, Mendoza performed the Spanish-language music of the Texas-Mexico borderlands and beyond.
Best known for her solo performances, Mendoza, with her soulful voice accompanied only by the playing of her 12-string guitar, recorded more than a thousand songs in an enduring career that spanned seven decades. Through her music, she gave a voice not only to the poor and working-class people North and South of the border, but also to Latinos throughout the Western Hemisphere. Her enormous repertoire of canciones, boleros, corridos, danzas, and tangos included ballads about historic figures and songs about hard work, lost love, and the joys of everyday life.
Mendoza was born in May 1916 in Houston, Texas. She grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and in towns along the border. She was born into a musical family; both her mother and maternal grandmother played the guitar. Mendoza began to emulate them when she was four years old, nailing rubber bands to a piece of wood to create her own instrument. She learned to sing and play the guitar from her mother, her greatest musical influence. Mendoza also learned to play the violin and mandolin, but it was the 12-string guitar that would become her signature instrument.
In the early 1930s, the Mendozas moved to San Antonio and began performing in the city’s famous Plaza del Zacate. Lydia’s big break came when she won a singing contest on the radio, which led to her family signing a contract with Bluebird Records in 1934. The producers asked Lydia to record some solo cuts. Among them was “Mal Hombre” or “Evil Man,” a song about a coldhearted man who breaks his lover’s heart. Years before, Lydia had learned the lyrics, which were printed on a gum wrapper. “Mal Hombre” soon became a hit. The Mendozas moved up in the musical world, performing in new venues such as clubs and theaters. By the time World War II broke out, Lydia had recorded more than 200 songs.
The war temporarily slowed Mendoza’s career. In the late 1940s, now married and with children of her own, she returned to recording and performing. Non-Spanish-speaking audiences started discovering Mendoza’s music in the 1970s. As her fame spread, she began to be recognized as an American folk icon and was invited to sing at new venues, such as folk festivals and college campuses. In 1977, Mendoza sang at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural celebration. She continued to tour and record in the 1980s. In 1982, Mendoza received a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Increasingly recognized as a national treasure, she was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.