Boleros, Corridos, and Rancheras singer and musician from Houston, Texas
Imagesshow all 31 images
Lydia Mendoza.1982 National Heritage Fellowship Concert. Washington, D.C. Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts. Copyright 2012 Documentary Arts, Inc.
Excerpt from: "The Devil's Swing." Directed by Alan Govenar. Produced by Documentary Arts, Inc. 1999. Copyright 2012 Documentary Arts, Inc.
Lydia Mendoza. 'Mal Hombre.' Mal Hombre. Arhoolie CD 7002. www.arhoolie.com
Yolanda Hernandez talks about growing up with Lydia Mendoza for her mother. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2011.
Yolanda Hernandez talks about her daughter playing "Mal Hombre" for Lydia Mendoza's 90th birthday. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2011.
Yolanda Hernandez recalls a stand-out memory of her mother Lydia Mendoza. Interview with Alan Govenar. Recorded by Alan Govenar. Houston, Texas, 2011.
FOR THE TEACHER
The power of the young Lydia Mendoza as a popular culture icon during the early years of mass media provides a platform for students to consider the relationship of media and fame. Saturated by popular culture and music through many forms of media, young people need to be able to decode media and analyze point of view of both artists and media producers. They can also consider the attributes of a hero and how fame does not necessarily translate into heroics.
Representatives of the early recording industry researched pockets of regional music across the United States to record traditional musicians and market music to diverse audiences, thus popularizing genres from blues to polka, hillbilly to klezmer. Lydia Mendoza’s voice, beauty, repertoire, and virtuosity made her an important artist who fluidly combined popular and traditional culture and reached a large audience of devoted fans over several decades. She appealed to thousands of Mexican Americans throughout the United States, and Mexicans of the US-Mexico border region hailed Lydia Mendoza as “the Lark of the Border.”
Students will be intrigued that another form of mass media, advertising, propelled Lydia to fame. She found the words for “Mal Hombre” on a bubble gum wrapper and put them to music. She recorded this corrido in 1934 on a 78-rpm, and it became her first big hit. The Mexican ballad genre of corridos dates to around 1800.
The earliest corridos were adapted versions of Spanish romances or European tales, mainly about disgraced or idealized love or religious topics. The European tradition of story songs known as ballads accompanied Spanish settlers to Mexico and developed into corridos, dramatic songs that tell of conflicts of everyday people, heroes, villains, horses, injustices, and historical events. Corridos remain very popular today, especially along the US-Mexico border. Awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 1982, Lydia Mendoza gave a voice to thousands of everyday people.
The story of Lydia Mendoza will encourage students to reflect on fame, heroism, and history and provide them an opportunity to write of their own heroes or Texas history in corridos.
- Improve listening skills and note taking
- Discover music of the Texas-Mexico border and Lydia Mendoza
- Examine the intersection of traditional and popular culture
- Consider their own music traditions and how families pass along music and song
- Study the musical genre of corridos and write their own
- Investigate the impact of technological changes and mass media on traditional music
Family Music Traditions
- From lullabies to holiday songs, music is a rich part of family folklore. Not every family has gifted musicians like Lydia Mendoza’s parents, but most families do have musical traditions.
- Music we sing, play, and listen to at home may differ from music we hear or perform in community settings or schools.
- Family musical traditions tell part of a family’s history.
- Borders often feature cultural elements from groups of people on both sides. Just as Lydia Mendoza’s father traveled for the railroad in Texas and Mexico, the musical traditions of the family capture Borderland culture.
- Although she spoke English, Lydia Mendoza chose to sing in Spanish. On the border, people often speak and read two languages.
- Corridos remain very popular on the border as a vibrant way of conveying stories of hardships and pleasures, a sort of history of everyday people.
Technology, Mass Media, and Traditional Culture
- Traditional musicians and artists make use of new technology, and people outside their cultural groups discover them through mass media. The new media of 78-rpm records and powerful radio stations that reached thousands of listeners introduced audiences to traditional music from many cultural groups after 1928. Suddenly, ethnic and regional genres were being heard outside their local communities.
- Images help sell music, and Lydia Mendoza’s photographs helped propel her to fame. She wore Mexican styles of clothing and posed dramatically with her 12-string guitar.
- Lydia Mendoza became fascinated with lyrics that she found on a bubble gum wrapper and composed her first big hit, “Mal Hombre,” based on this discovery. Where do people encounter song lyrics and poetry in today’s mass media? How do young people take advantage of new media?
Innovation and Tradition
- Traditions change over time and evolve to fit new circumstances.
- Lydia Mendoza altered her twelve-string guitar in a manner that became her hallmark. Some artists’ changes remain unique to them, and other changes become widespread.
Lydia’s story and photos
Film clip from Masters of Traditional Arts DVD-ROM
Music clips from Arhoolie CDs
Everyday Music Field Notes
Traditions Venn Diagram
Everyday Music Interview Worksheet
Everyday Music Songwriting Worksheet
Everyday Music Listening Log
1-2 class periods
Texas history, social studies, English language arts, music, Spanish
Review Lydia Mendoza’s story and media clips. Choose Big Ideas that you find relevant to your curriculum and your students. Copy Everyday Music Field Notes and other worksheets students will need and cue the audio and clips.
Students may read the story and listen to the audio story independently, in groups, or as a class. Using the Everyday Music Field Notes worksheet will help them focus more closely. In a class discussion, raise some of the Big Ideas above, depending upon your curriculum and students’ needs and grade level. Here are questions to spark discussion:
- What qualities made people call Lydia Mendoza “the Lark of the Border”? Is she a hero as well as a media star? Why or why not?
- How do traditional and popular cultures intersect in Lydia’s music? In your music traditions?
- How do families pass along songs and music traditions? What are favorite music traditions in your family? Favorite songs? In what language are they sung?
- What songs do you know by heart? How did you learn them?
- Do you or your parents know any corridos? If so, what are the titles? Examples in English include some country and western songs such as Marty Robbins’ hit ballad “El Paso.”
- What Mexican and Spanish influences are evident in your community?
Students may work independently or collaboratively to:
Use the Everyday Music Songwriting Worksheet and other resources to help you write and illustrate a corrido about an event in Texas history (see Resources). You may choose to write in English or Spanish.
Use the Everyday Music Interview Worksheet to interview a family member and then write a corrido to tell a story about this person (see Resources). The Everyday Music Songwriting Worksheet will also be helpful.
Write corridos expressing opposing points of view about a historical event (see Resources). You may use the Everyday Music Songwriting Worksheet.
Brainstorm family music traditions and share to compile a class list. Use the Traditions Venn Diagram to compare and contrast students’ music traditions with those of Lydia Mendoza and her family in a class discussion.
Design a cover for a CD compilation of Lydia Mendoza’s songs.
Document and analyze the types of music and names of musicians played on local radio stations using the Everyday Music Listening Log. Bonus points for finding a corrido!
Lists of family music traditions
Radio listening logs
point of view
Use and create primary sources
Immigration and migration
Point of view
Spanish and Mexican influences
Corridos sin Fronteras www.corridos.org. Smithsonian Institution educational website provides musical and historical context of corridos and includes a timeline and student guide for writing corridos.
Form and Theme in the Traditional Mexican Corrido: Understanding Corridos Throughout History http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/lessons/grade-9-12/Form_and_Theme_Mexican_Corrido.aspx
Louisiana Voices www.louisianavoices.org. Unit VI Lesson 3 Generational Music Communities
Words and Music Teacher’s Guide, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum http://countrymusichalloffame.org/assets/Uploads/Files/WM-TeacherGuide.pdf
Broyles-González, Yolanda. My Life in Music (Mi Vida en la Musica); Lydia Mendoza: Norteño Tejano Legacies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Mendoza, Lydia, Chris Strachwitz, and James Nicolopolus. Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1993.
Lydia Mendoza. The First Queen of Tejano Music. Arhoolie CD 392.
______. La Alondra De La Frontera Con Orqusta Falcon. Arhoolie CD 513.
______. Mal Hombre and Other Original Hits from the 1930s. Arhoolie CD 7002.
______. Vida Mía. Arhoolie CD 7008.
______. The Best of Lydia Mendoza. Arhoolie CD 536.
Order from Arhoolie Records at www.arhoolie.com
Chulas Fronteras. Directed by Les Blank, 58 min., 1976. A documentary of the Mexican American experience told through musicians, including Lydia Mendoza. Available in libraries and from www.lesblank.com/more/chulas.html.