Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman looks at a singer who grew up as a sharecropper but went on to become the first Tejano artist ever to win a Grammy.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.
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Little Joe Hernández was born in Temple, Texas, on Oct. 17, 1940. His grandfather had been a colonel in Pancho Villa’s army, but his parents worked as sharecroppers near Temple. At the age of 16, Hernandez began playing with David Coronado and the Latinaires. When Coronado left the band, Hernandez changed the name to Little Joe and the Latinaires. At first, the Latinaires played mostly Top 40 pop songs. However, by the late 1960s, Hernández had become increasingly involved in the Chicano movement. He changed the band’s name to Little Joe y La Familia and began to shape a new sound and image that would reflect his ethnic roots and his growing social activism. His 1972 remake of the older tune “Las Nubes” (“The Clouds”) became an anthem of sorts for the Chicano movement. Hernandez’s blending of traditional Mexican folk styles with blues and rock and roll helped lay the foundation for the emergence of Tejano music in the 1980s. In 1992, Little Joe became the first Tejano artist ever to win a Grammy for his album Diez y Seis de Septiembre.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll look at an accomplished songwriter who is probably best remembered for his more humorous compositions.