Whenever people talk about legendary musicians, especially in the modern era, they often talk about the musician’s success in terms of hit singles, platinum records, and ticket sales. However, there are musicians who become legendary for the impact they have on the industry and music in general. These musicians are often innovators, forming new genres or fusing existing genres in new ways. However, some musicians become legendary because of their ability to cross lines and boundaries, breaking ground and introducing new musical styles. Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero is one of those legendary musicians. His significance to music, specifically Chicano music, earned him the title “Father of Chicano Music”; that significance will be explored in this paper.
Guerrero was born on December 24, 1916, in Tuscon, Arizona, the child of Mexican immigrants who had been drawn to the United States by the prospect of work (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). His love of music undoubtedly came from his mother Concepción; she loved to sing Mexican popular songs and taught Guerrero to play the guitar (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). However, his interest in music was not limited to Mexican music; he was also drawn to the music of American movies. He is said to have attempted to “emulate the crooner Rudy Vallee” and would watch The Jazz Singer, the first movie with sound, over and over again (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). He performed in student assemblies at school, where a teacher introduced the young boy to classical music; he tried to absorb everything musical that came his way (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). From the start, music was a big part of Guerrero’s life, and he decided to pursue a career in it.
When he first began making music, he faced a struggle common to many individuals with mixed cultural identities – he discovered that his music was “rejected in Mexico by those who felt his music was too American as well as in America, for the opposite reason” (“Lalo Guerrero,” Contemporary). Nevertheless, through experimentation and innovation, Guerrero began “blending a variety of styles that ranged from swing music to mambos and boleros” (“Lalo Guerrero,” Contemporary). This innovation allowed him to blend the music of his childhood – the music his mother shared with him – and the music he had learned to love from American culture into a music that “celebrated Chicano life” while engaging American audiences (“Lalo Guerrero,” Contemporary). As a result of his innovations and contributions, Guerrero was honored with several awards: he was the first Chicano “to be honored by the U.S. President with a National Medal of the Arts, which he earned in 1996,” as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award awarded by the Mexican Cultural Institute; he was also inducted into the Tejano Hall of Fame (“Lalo Guerrero,” Contemporary).
Guerrero continued making music into the new millennium, publishing his autobiography in 2002; in the autobiography, he wrote that he intended to continue making music (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). For the next few years he performed his music “until shortly before his death on March 17, 2005, in Palm Springs, California” (“Lalo Guerrero,” Encyclopedia). Guerrero’s love of music and his passion for blending genres, as well as his struggles to reconcile the two parts of his identity – Mexican and American – led the creation of music which earned him the title “the Father of Chicano Music.” That is his significance in Chicano music.
- “Lalo Guerrero.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.
- “Lalo Guerrero.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 26. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.