Actor Jesse Borrego joins the U.S. Postal Service to celebrate the life of Lydia Mendoza in a new stamp series
With this stamp in the new Music Icons series, the U.S. Postal Service honors Lydia Mendoza, one of the first and greatest stars of Tejano music. Known as La Alondra de la Frontera, the Lark of the Border, Mendoza performed the Spanish-language music of the Texas-Mexico borderlands and beyond.
The Lydia Mendoza Forever Stamp will be dedicated May 15 at a special dedication ceremony featuring actor Jesse Borrego as master of ceremony at the Guadalupe Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX.
The stamp goes on sale nationwide May 15. The 46-cent stamp will be available for purchase at local Post Offices, online at www.usps.com/stamps or by calling 800- STAMP24 (800-782-6724). The stamp is good for mailing 1-ounce First-Class letters anytime in the future regardless of price changes.
Lydia Mendoza is the first to be honored in the Postal Service’s new Music Icons series, which will include legends Ray Charles and Johnny Cash later this year.
Borrego, best known for the role of Jesse Velasquez in the hit TV series, Fame, joins U.S. Postal Service Government Relations Vice President Marie Therese Dominguez to dedicate this historic stamp. Beloved San Antonio singers — collectively known as Las Tesoros — are scheduled to perform at the stamp ceremony. The singers, Rita Vidaurri, Beatrice Llamas, Janet Cortez and Blanquita Rodriguez often toured with Lydia Mendoza.
Best known for her solo performances, Mendoza’s soulful voice accompanied only by the playing of her 12-string guitar recorded more than a thousand songs in an enduring career that spanned seven decades. Through her music, she gave a voice not only to the poor and working-class people of the border, but also to Latinos throughout the Western Hemisphere. Her enormous repertoire of canciones, boleros, corridos, danzas, and tangos included ballads about historic figures and songs about hard work, lost love, and the joys of everyday life.
Lydia Mendoza was born in May 1916 in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and in towns along the border. She was born into a musical family; both her mother and maternal grandmother played the guitar. Mendoza began to emulate them when she was just four years old, nailing rubber bands to a piece of wood to create her own instrument. She eventually learned to sing and play the guitar from her mother, her greatest musical influence. Mendoza also learned to play the violin and mandolin, but it was the 12-string guitar that would become her signature instrument.
The Mendoza family sang and played music at home as a hobby, but when Lydia’s father left his railroad job for health reasons, music became the family’s career. By the mid-1920s, Lydia was performing with her mother, father, and sister at stores and restaurants, singing a mix of traditional and popular songs. In 1928, Lydia’s father answered a newspaper ad seeking musicians to make records. Soon afterward, the group, now called El Cuarteto Carta Blanca after the Mexican beer brewery where Mr. Mendoza once worked, walked into a San Antonio hotel room and recorded ten songs for the Okeh label.
In the early 1930s, the Mendozas moved to San Antonio and began performing in the city’s famous Plaza del Zacate. Lydia’s big break came when she won a singing contest on the radio, which led to her family signing a contract with Bluebird Records in 1934. The producers asked Lydia to record some solo cuts, which included “Mal Hombre” or “Evil Man,” a song about a coldhearted man who breaks his lover’s heart. Years before, Lydia had learned the lyrics off a gum wrapper. “Mal Hombre” soon became a hit. The Mendozas moved up in the musical world, performing in new venues such as clubs and theaters. By the time World War II broke out, Lydia had recorded more than 200 songs.
The war temporarily slowed Mendoza’s career. In the late 1940s, now married with children of her own, she returned to recording and performing. Non-Spanish-speaking audiences started discovering Mendoza’s music in the 1970s. As her fame spread, she began to be recognized as an American folk icon and was invited to sing at new venues, such as folk festivals and college campuses. In 1977, Mendoza sang at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural celebration. She continued to tour and record in the 1980s. In 1982, Mendoza received a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Increasingly recognized as a national treasure, she was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.
Mendoza retired from music in 1988 after suffering a stroke. In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton. In his speech, Clinton remarked, “Her legacy is as wide and deep as the Rio Grande Valley.”
Lydia Mendoza died on December 20, 2007, at the age of 91, in San Antonio, Texas. Her recordings continue to be collected and played on the radio. Today, Mendoza is remembered as a musical pioneer who not only popularized Mexican-American music, but also carved out a career that was unique for a woman of her time, thereby breaking down barriers for the next generation.
The artwork for the Lydia Mendoza stamp features an undated, black-and-white publicity photo of
Mendoza taken for Ideal Records in the 1950s. The flag of Texas is superimposed over the singer’s image, with its vertical blue bar and single white star covering the left half of the photo and its horizontal red stripe embellishing the bottom right corner.
The square stamp captures the look of a 45 rpm record sleeve. The stamp pane evokes the appearance of a 45 rpm single peeking out of a record sleeve above the stamps themselves. On the reverse side, the pane includes a larger version of the photograph featured on the stamp art as well as the logo for the Music Icons series. Neal Ashby and Patrick Donohue designed the stamp, working with art director Antonio Alcalá.