Lydia Mendoza Performance Dress

The Lark of the Border

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by Jenny Cobb, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

The Texas-Mexico border is a principle exporter of rich and complex music. Collectively known as Música Tejana, it includes different styles such as corridos, rancheras, conjunto, and Tejano.

Rooted in Mexican culture and shaped by influences from the United States and the rest of the world, the diversity of this music expresses the passions and histories of the people and the borderlands. Twentieth-century Texas Mexican music combines traditional and modern sounds. With a narrative rooted in Mexican heritage, it draws inspiration from Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Nicknamed the “Lark of the Border,” Lydia Mendoza was the most prominent female Texas-Mexican, or Tejana, singer from the 1930s to the 1950s. Born in Houston on May 13, 1916, Mendoza lived most of her life in San Antonio and performed with her family in public plazas throughout the city, as well as for migrant agricultural workers across south Texas. By 1928, she had landed a recording contract with Okeh Records and soon became the most commercially successful Tejana singer of her time.

During her career, Mendoza made more than 50 albums, received numerous regional and national awards, and toured throughout the world. She also was not afraid to openly address controversial issues of particular concern to Tejanas. One of her most popular songs, “Mal Hombre (Evil Man)," speaks candidly about male mistreatment and domestic abuse of women. In addition to confronting such controversial matters in a highly public way, Mendoza also helped create new economic opportunities for women by demonstrating that female artists could achieve commercial success in music. This helped open the door for dozens of other Tejana performers in the music business.

Lydia Mendoza’s performance dress and approximately 70 additional artifacts were part of the exhibition, Life and Death on the Border 1910—1920.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Lydia Mendoza Performance Dress Artifact from Houston, Texas
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