Lydia Mendoza, known as “La Alondra de la Frontera” (“The Lark of the Border”), “La Cancionera de los Pobres” (“The Songstress of the Poor”), and later as “La Gloria de Texas” (“The Glory of Texas”), was born in May 1916 in Houston to Francisco and Leonora Mendoza. From an early age she was taught to play a variety of instruments by her mother and grandmother, and when she was four years old, she made a guitar for herself from wood, nails, and rubber bands. Within a few years Mendoza joined her family in performing songs and variety shows for the Tejano community. Her ability to sing and play the twelve-string guitar ultimately made her the family’s principal bread earner.
In 1928 when Lydia Mendoza was only twelve years old, her family responded to an OKeh Records Company advertisement seeking Spanish-language recording artists placed in La Prensa, the Spanish-language newspaper in San Antonio. After successfully auditioning, the family recorded twenty songs under the professional name Cuarteto Carta Blanca and earned $140. However, they soon left San Antonio to seek work in the sugar beet fields in Michigan. Upon their return to San Antonio by the early 1930s, Mendoza and her family found work performing at Tejano business establishments, on the streets, and at the Plaza del Zacate. During the week they earned twenty-five or thirty cents a day to cover food; on the weekends they pulled in a dollar and twenty-five cents to cover rent. Soon Manuel J. Cortez, a Tejano broadcaster, heard Lydia Mendoza sing at the plaza and offered her a guest appearance on his radio show, Voz Latina. The audience’s quick and positive response to her talent led Cortez to invite Mendoza to appear regularly on his show for $3.50 a week. The money provided the family much-needed income. Mendoza recalled years later, “With that three-fifty, we felt like millionaires. Now at least we could be sure of paying the rent.”
Monterrey by Cuarteto Carta Blanca, recorded in San Antonio, 1928: