Sonidos y Mas

Houston-Born Tejano Icon Lydia Mendoza Honored With New Postage Stamp

Texas music lovers have one more thing to celebrate as of today. The United States Postal Service is issuing a new series of stamps titled Music Icons, and Houston's own Lydia Mendoza is the first honoree.

Long before Selena, there was Lydia Mendoza. A master of the twelve-string guitar, Ms. Mendoza became the first female star in the all-male field of Tejano music when, at age 18, she cut her most famous tune, "Mal Hombre" (essentially "Evil-hearted Man") for RCA Victor subsidiary Bluebird Records in 1934. The track has been called the first Tejano music recording.

Mendoza immediately became a regional and then national radio star in the era before television. But under the musical leadership of her mother Leonora and the management of her father Francisco, Lydia Mendoza had already been performing in the streets, markets, and bars of San Antonio.

With her family, she was recording for the Okeh label as early as 1928 as part of Cuarteto Carta Blanca. The group had a strong presence in San Antonio, where the Mendoza family had relocated in early 1928.

The Mendozas regularly performed in the Plaza de Zacate and were a well-known local attraction in the Mexican-American community. Noted musicologist Chris Strachwitz described the Mendoza family as being similar to the Carter Family, the "first family of country music." Numerous parallels between the two families exist, from their recording during the same period to the fact that while both groups were headed by a male, the females were the stars and primary vocalists.

But while the Mendoza family band provided a way to pay the rent, it was Lydia's first solo recording, "Mal Hombre" -- which earned her a whopping $60 -- that captured the public imagination, rapidly vaulting her to first regional and then to national stardom.

Mal hombre, tan ruin es tu alma que no tiene nombre

Eres un canalla, eres un malvado

Eres un... mal hombre

(Evil man, so mean is your soul it has no name

You are a scoundrel, you are a wicked one

You are an... evil man)

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
William Michael Smith