Lydia Mendoza is one of the great pioneers of American music and a legend of Mexican music. Born in Houston, Texas, in 1916 to a Mexican family who had fled the chaos of the revolution, she and her siblings were never sent to school. Instead, they performed with their mother on the streets and in the fields, busking to survive.
From an early age, Lydia showed herself to be a remarkable singer and player of the twelve-string guitar (she also played mandolin), and by 1934, she was celebrated in San Antonio, Texas, as a street singer and radio performer. This success led to the independent label Blue Bird recording her and issuing ‘Mal Hombre’ (Bad Man) as her first 78.
The song immediately struck a chord with listeners. It was her first – and greatest – hit, taking off right across the US Southwest, making Lydia a star and kicking off the Mexican-American recording boom in the process. Buoyed by her success, Lydia got on the road and crisscrossed the US – and later Mexico, Colombia, and Cuba – her bell-like voice and resonant guitar-playing marking her out as a true original.
- Lydia had learned the lyric of Mal Hombre from a bubble-gum wrapper and set it to music. It is the take of a ruthless womanizer, which Lydia sung stridently, providing her own sturdy accompaniment on twelve-string.
- She is known as “La Alondra de la Frontera” (or “The Lark of the Border” in English).
- After World War II, Mendoza recorded for many of the major Mexican-American record labels mostly located in Texas. She continued actively performing and recording up until a stroke in 1988 slowed her schedule down.
- Lydia Mendoza died on December 20, 2007, in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 91.