Wittliff exhibit gives Tejano music legends their due


Check out top cultural art events in December.

From shattering glass ceilings to creating anthems for the Chicano movement, the legends of Tejano music have helped lift not just Texas but American music. Oftentimes, though, recognition of their contributions to our nation’s soundtrack is overlooked.

“I think (record companies) had a hard time knowing where to put us because we were so diverse,” Tejano music star Shelly Lares recently told a packed room of fans at Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections during a panel discussion about the genre’s legends. From mariachi music to rock and roll, Lares said Tejano musicians “can do any type of music in one night.”

Tejano music, which has everything from cajun to country influences, doesn’t fit neatly into any musical category and its very definition is disputed by both musicologists and artists themselves. But one thing remains consistent — the music keeps evolving as new generations create their own sound.

For a musical journey that highlights Tejano music’s roots and trailblazing artists, it’s worth taking a trip to San Marcos for the exhibit “Legends of Tejano Music: Highlights From The Ramón Hernández Archives” at the Wittliff Collections. The exhibit, which runs through Dec. 20, includes vintage concert posters, one-of-a-kind stage outfits, rare recordings, instruments, historic photographs and other artifacts from legendary stars such as Lydia Mendoza, Little Joe Hernández, Freddy Fender, Selena and Sunny Ozuna.

RELATED: Story behind Little Joe’s popular ‘Las Viejas’ album cover

It’s a rare glimpse into music historian Ramón Hernández’ extensive archives, which he began collecting as a journalist chronicling Tejano music. “You can find a bunch of books on the East L.A. sound and artists like Richie Valens and Santana,” Hernández said. “But what about Little Joe and Sunny Ozuna and all of the Texas artists?”

The lack of documentation led him on a personal quest to fill a void. Early in his career, when Hernández had a hard time finding out where to catch Tejano music shows, he launched a Hispanic Concert Hotline. Music fans could call in and find out about all the latest acts and where they were playing.

Nowadays, he’s worried about preserving the history of this Texas-based music. He wants to ensure that new generations of music fans know that trailblazers such as 1940s-era Tejano musician Juan Viesca set his tololoche string bass on fire during his performances way before Jimi Hendrix ever lit up his guitar on stage.

“I’m going to be 78 years old next year,” he said. “I want to see more writers continue to document this history.” After all, it’s a vital part of the fabric of American music.

Visit thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu for more details on the exhibit located on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University. Admission is free.

RELATED: Check out more cultural art events on the Cultura blog

Happy Birthday, “El Mariachi”

With just $7,000, filmmaker Robert Rodríguez shot the 1992 indie classic film “El Mariachi,” which launched his career and set him on a trailblazing path.

With films such as “Sin City” and the “Spy Kids” series, Rodríguez has helped boost the visibility of diverse characters on the big screen and opened the doors for Latinos in television with his channel “El Rey.”

The Austin Film Society on Dec. 2 will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of “El Mariachi” with a rare marathon screening of what’s called the full Mexico trilogy — “El Mariachi,” “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” A Q&A with Rodríguez will follow the final film. The evening at the AFS Cinema will be capped with a special after party featuring a live performance by Rodríguez and his band, Chingón.

Rodríguez has lots to celebrate. The AFS advisory board member also wrapped up the filming of his reality show “Rebel Without a Crew.” The show challenges five emerging filmmakers to shoot a movie with the same money and time constraints that Rodríguez had 25 years ago with “El Mariachi.”

Tickets for the entire event cost $75 and $65 for Austin Film Society members. Individual movie or party tickets are also available at austinfilm.org. Catch “El Mariachi” at 2 p.m.; “Desperado” at 4:15 p.m. and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” at 6:30 p.m. After party begins at 8 p.m.

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