History

‘San Antonio’s First Lady of Song’: Rosita Fernandez

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A pioneer in Tejano music and an ambassador of culture from San Antonio, Rosita Fernandez was, at one time, considered “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song.” Born in 1918, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Rosita’s family moved to Laredo, Texas in 1924 and then to San Antonio in 1927. One in a family of sixteen children, at the age of nine she began performing with her mother’s brothers (her uncles) in the “Trio San Miguel” and played in carpas (known as tent shows) across Central and Southern Texas through the late 1920s and into the 1930s. She became the lead female vocalist for the group, despite her uncles’ talents, an amazing thing for a young woman in the male-dominated Tejano music scene of that era.

‘San Antonio’s First Lady of Song’: Rosita Fernandez

Photo: Pinterest/Gerald D. Lyda

At the age of 14, Fernandez got her big break in the industry in 1932 when she won a local singing contest sponsored by a radio station, which resulted in a performance on the Gebhardt Chili Show – one of the first commercial radio shows in the US. From there, her popularity skyrocketed, and she became known for “Corridos,” traditional ballads of love, the common man/woman’s life, oppression, and socially-relevant themes. Soon came radio commercial jingles, followed by regular performances at “A Night In Old San Antonio” at San Antonio’s Fiesta week, as well as “Fiesta Noche Del Rio” at the Arneson River Theater. In 1938, she married Raúl A. Almaguer and continued to perform under her maiden name – something that was unique in itself for a woman in that day and age. She had the full support of her husband and children (of which they had two) and went on to successfully represent her culture and her genre on broader stages.

‘San Antonio’s First Lady of Song’: Rosita Fernandez

Photo: Facebook/Kenneth L. Moore

Wearing elaborate costumes which bore embroidery and beading on the sleeves and skirt and were hand-sewn by her mom as well as many talented friends, she went on to sing for four sitting US Presidents along with a widespread international dignitary audience, including England’s Prince Charles, Pope John Paul II, and Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. And it was during a performance for more than 40 ambassadors at the Arneson River Theater that Lady Bird Johnson herself pronounced Fernandez as “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song.” She broke many cultural barriers at a time when most would think it impossible. And she was a famed Tejana musician whose performances brought together Mexican and Anglo-Americans through Spanish/English music and song, with her husband Raúl completing the English-to-Spanish translations on the majority of her music.

‘San Antonio’s First Lady of Song’: Rosita Fernandez

Photo: Facebook/Melina Montelongo

She sang on top record labels, including Decca and RCA, and performed in numerous movies, including “The Alamo” featuring John Wayne. Through it all, her motto for career success was: “God gave me a voice that is pleasant to hear, and I want to share it.” She was inducted into the San Antonio Musicians Hall of Fame in 1979, and well after retirement in 1982, Fernandez continued to perform for charities and community projects, as well as receive many awards and acknowledgements for everything she did for the City of San Antonio, including being named “Woman of the Year by Mayor Cisneros in 1983. And after her storied career coupled with her vast amount of public service, the Mexican American Unity Council awarded Fernandez the Albert Peña Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Fernandez passed in 2006, but her memory lives through her music and her strong passion for community. In his Facebook post in Texas Notables, writer Kenneth L. Moore said it best when he noted: “She must surely be dressed not in white robes but the colorful, ornate hand sewn embroidered dress for which she so dutifully embraced.”

Sources:

New York Times

Kenneth L. Moore to Texas Notables on Facebook

AllMusic