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Tejana Legends

A look at Tejana music pioneers – radical in their time – and the path they paved for Selena and others

"La Rosa de San Antonio"

A promising national movie and singing career awaited Rosita Fernández. She was born in 1919 and, after moving from Monterrey, Mexico, to San Antonio with her parents in the 1920s at age 9, toured with her uncles in their Trío San Miguel.

"It was hard because of the social barriers against Mexican Americans and other minorities," she once said in an interview. "I remember when I would perform with my uncles in the surrounding towns. We couldn't even go into the restaurants to eat when we were hungry."

But that modest beginning, and a starring role on radio's Gebhardt Chili Show, propelled her upward. The songstress performed with Dean Martin and Joan Crawford, and was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. She appeared in The Alamo starring John Wayne and starred in the Disney TV movie Sancho, the Homing Steer. She recorded hits such as "María Bonita" and "Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado."

But her husband's disapproval led Fernández to cut her film career short and remain in San Antonio. There she became known for headlining the city's famed Fiesta Noche del Río for 28 years and for appearing in ads for local tortilla brands.

Her husband, Raúl Almaguer, recalls in a 1999 interview that when he made Fernández quit working, "she became ill, actually ill, and I swallowed my ego and realized I was hurting our marriage and hurting her."

So the Rose of San Antonio returned to the stage, but she didn't go to Hollywood. "I decided that even though I knew I could make more money if I toured, I wanted to stay close to my family and not have to travel," she said in an interview.

Even staying close to home, she entertained five presidents and other U.S. dignitaries, Pope John Paul II and Prince Charles. Like Mendoza, she sang at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration. She performed for guests of President Lyndon Johnson at a 1968 event for ambassadors where Lady Bird Johnson dubbed her "San Antonio's First Lady of Song," and the title stuck. In 1982 a bridge on San Antonio's River Walk was named the Rosita Bridge for Fernández, who died in 2006.

What also stuck is the popularity of Tejano music, and the influence of Tejana legends such as Fernández, Mendoza and Silva still holds.

You may also like: Painter stamps Latin music legends into postal history.

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