If the Alamo is San Antonio’s most famous attraction then Lydia Mendoza is the city’s greatest star. Attending a film club screening of Les Blank’s Chulas Fronteras (Beautiful Borders) in the 1980s I was introduced to Tex-Mex music and Lydia. I then came across her music through Arhoolie Records’ reissues of Mendoza’s historic recordings (1930s-1950s) alongside two superb 80s albums La Gloria de Texas and In Concert.
Lydia’s bell-like voice, fluid 12-string acoustic guitar picking and pioneering conjunto style bowled me over and I’ve been a fan ever since. Yet as Lydia made her most famous recordings in the 1930s I felt she surely must have since left this world. Interviewing Mexican cabaret diva Astrid Hadad in 2004 I pestered her for tales of Mexico’s many musical legends. Astrid was generous but nothing surprised me more than when she mentioned Lydia was still alive. ‘She’s had a stroke and isn’t playing music any more but beyond that I hear she’s well,’ said Astrid. My heart skipped a beat.