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ROSITA FERNÁNDEZ: San Antonio’s First Lady of Song

Rosita Fernández

FEBRUARY 22 - JUNE 25, 2017
Rosita Fernández (1918-2006), a pioneer of Tejano music, is the subject of a special exhibition at the Wittliff Collections. Guest curated by Ramón Hernández, founder/curator of Hispanic Entertainment Archives, the display highlights her music and career, and is drawn from Hernández’s extensive personal collection.

Rosita Fernández recorded many corridos and ballads in the male-dominated genre of Tejano music and was one of the first Tejana singers to record.  Singing for many notable people throughout her life, she was named San Antonio’s First Lady of Song by Lady Bird Johnson in 1968 and was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame in 2005. 


From Curator Ramón Hernández:

ROSITA FERNÁNDEZ  -   San Antonio’s First Lady of Song

Born April 12, 1918- actress; singer

Fernández, born in Monterrey, Mexico to Captain Julio César Fernández and his wife Petra, was one of sixteen children. Her sisters, Celia, Elisa and Bertha also sang; and Bertha appears in some of Rosita’s recordings. Other children were Amadita, Bertita, Cesar, Sotero, Olga, Anna Maria, Salvador and Marianela.

Her uncle, Pablo Fernández almost got to be President of Mexico. However, he died in a freak accident during the presidential campaign.

As teenagers, Rosita’s own children seemed to follow in her footsteps. Her daughter Diana Rosa was a popular Flamenco dancer and her son, Raul, an Elvis Presley imitator. Another little known fact is that

Raul Arturo Almaguer, her husband, did the English to Spanish translations on most of her songs.

Fernández, as can be attested to by the following data, has probably received more citations and awards than any other Tejano singer. Yet, she remains so down to earth, she seems out of place at her kitchen sink doing dishes.

“There’s two of us,” Rosita said during an 1985 interview at her home. “First there’s a Mrs. Almaguer who does the dishes. Then there’s a Rosita Fernández who sings. The separation is such that when our kids were small, they would say, ‘Come on mom, hurry up with the dishes so we can go see Rosita Fernández at the Arneson River Theater,’” she explained.

MUSICAL HISTORY

1927        At age 9, Fernández began her singing career with Trio San Miguel, also her Uncles.

1932        Her family moved to San Antonio making their home at 621 S. Pinto St. It was also during this time her sister Bertha would join Rosita on some duets. Other celebrities that lived on Pinto Street are Lalo Astor, Eva Garza, Alfonso Cantu and Raul Cortez. Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez lived around the corner on San Fernando St.

1933        Fernández started her radio career when she was selected for WOAI radio’s Gebhart’s Chili Show, one of America's first commercial radio programs. Next came the Frito Program and a career in jingles.

1934        Started recording duets as Rosita y Laura with Laura Cantu  of Carmen y Laura

1935        She became the featured vocalist with the Eduardo Martinez Orchestra. Martinez was one of the originators of Fiesta Noche del Rio. Meanwhile she started working off and off with Trio Los Conquistadores.

1936        Performed at the Texas Centennial with Pancho Hernandez and Lydia Newman.

late '36     Bertha broke away from the act

1937        Fernández started performing at the Arneson River Theater as part of the original Night In Old San Antonio.

1938        Joined the “New Spanish Trail” radio program. It was also this year, she met and married her leading man, Raul Arturo Almaguer. It was her husband who suggested she keep on using her maiden name  because it sounded more Mexican. “Then I decided one of us had to work to support us. So I got a regular full-time job,” he said.

l939         Made her first Mexican radio appearance on the Emilio Ascarga Show, on XET

10-06-46   Fernández appeared in the first television program ever transmitted by WOAI-TV. Other programs followed:  “Just Before Tonight,” “Dance Time”  and “Winter Wonderland.”

1947        Started recording and performing with the Emilio Casares Orchestra.

1949        Became a regular on The Rhumba Kings television show, also on WOAI-TV.

early ‘50s  Sang with the Xavier Cugat, Sammy Kaye and Jesse Gonzalez orchestras.

1957        Night in Old San Antonio was changed to Fiesta Noche Del Rio when the Alamo Kiwanis Club took over the function. Singing with the Mariano Lozano Orchestra, Fernandez commenced a 26 year stint at the Arneson River Theater, as its main attraction. “However, even before Fiesta Noche was sponsored by the  Kiwanis, we were performing there with the Raul Martinez Orchestra for the Chamber of Commerce.

Summer ’84  She did her last show at the Arneson River Theater.

2005        Rosita underwent heart surgery

2005        After recovering, she married Charles Reeves.

5-2-06      Rosita died of heart complications at the age of 88.

FILMS

1960     The Alamo  w/John Wayne, Richard Boone and Frankie Avalon

1967     Sancho the Homing Steer  w/Bill Shurley

1976     Seguin  w/Henry Darrow, A. Martinez and Pepe Serna

1981     300 Miles For Stephanie  w/Tony Orlando & Edward Olmos

TELEVISION APPEARANCES

6-22-53     Appeared live on the “Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout TV Show” where she sang Guadalajara.

7-16-53     Appeared on “Live Like A Millionaire” where she was paid $39.70 and she had to provide her own transportation.

1955        Appeared on an Ed Sullivan television special filmed at Boysville, in San Antonio, Texas.

                Gary Moore Show, Barbara Britton Show and Raul Velasco Show (3 times) to name a few. In addition, she has appeared in may Mexican national television programs.

AWARDS & CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

late '40s   Sang for President Harry Truman

01-64       Sang at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Inauguration

07-64       Selected “Woman of the Week” by the San Antonio Express-News

11-65       Sang for Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos

01-66       Was made an honorary citizen and received the Key to the City of Corpus Christi, Texas

04-66       Named “San Antonio's First Lady of Song” by Lady Bird Johnson

11-66       Selected as one of the “Outstanding Women of the Americas.”

1967        Named a Buccaneer Days Honorary Pirate

12-67       Received a Tribute Recognition Award from KCOR Radio in San Antonio

early ‘68   Sang for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey

1968        Appointed Hemisphere Ambassador

11-68       Sang for President Richard M. Nixon

11-68       Appeared in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade promoting Hemisphere

06-72       Sang for Mexican President Luis Echeverria

1974        Received a plaque from the Fiesta Noche Del Rio cast

mid ‘70s    Sang for President Gerald Ford.

09-74       Received the Golden Years Appreciation Award

09-75       Named Almirante del Rio San Antonio

1977        She was selected Grand Marshall for the Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio.

1977        She was selected Grand Marshall for the Diez y Seis Parade.

08-78       Received a Recognition Award from the Old Spanish Mission Centro de Artesania

1979        Fernández sang with the San Antonio Symphony

late '70s   Sang for President Jimmy Carter

08-79       Budweiser Beer gave Fernández a Meritorious Service Award in furtherance of the Hispanic culture of the City of San Antonio.

1979        Received a 50 Year Recognition Award from the Musicians Society of San Antonio Local 23.

10-79       Named “Amiga De Jalisco” by the city of Jalisco, Mexico

1979         She was made the centerfold in a coloring book about historical places in San Antonio.

04-80       Sang for, then received a Certified Blessing Certificate from Pope John Paul II

05-80       Received a 50 Year Recognition Award from KWEX-TV in San Antonio

05-80       Named Emissary of the Muses

05-80       Received a 50 Year Recognition Award from the Mexican American Business & Professional Women’s Club.

5-30-80     Received a Hommage Award for her great artistic labor during the last 50 years.

11-80       Received a 50 Years of Outstanding Performance Award from Ladies Lulac Council 282

1981        Selected Grand Marshall for the Fiesta Flameau Night Parade

1982        Mayor Henry Cisneros and the San Antonio City Council honored Fernandez by naming the bridge at the Arneson River Theatre “Rosita's Bridge.”

12-82       Received a citation from the San Antonio Mexican Chamber of Commerce

12-82       Received a citation from The State of Texas House of Representatives

12-19-82   Received a plaque from the Mexican American Business & Professional Women’s Club of San Antonio for promoting a position image of the Mexican American woman.

1983        Received a plaque from Telethon Navideño

07-83       Selected “Woman of the Year” by the Nemo Herrea Scholarship Fund

10-83       Designated Huesped Distinguido

1983        Awarded a plaque for “56 Years of Service to the Community” from Lulac Council No. 2

09-84       Inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame

9-11-84     Kelly AFB, in San Antonio, awarded her the “Entertainment Role Model Award” for outstanding and meritorious service and demonstrated commitment to promoting and improving the status of Hispanic Americans.

10-84       Named “La Primera Doma De La Cancion Mexicana” by Los Trovadores De Mi Tierra.

01-85       Named “Sunday’s Woman”

4-22-85     “San Antonio” designated the city’s Official Song

10-85       Named “Good Neighbor” by the Good Neighbor Commission of Texas

1986        During her long career, Fernández has sang for the President of Pakistan, sang at the White House and the U.S. Senate.

                She has also shared the same stage with Joan Crawford, Dean Martin, Red Buttons, George Gobel, Roger Smith, Diane McBain, Poncie Ponz, Pedro Armendariz and many others too numerous to mention.

1986        Inducted into the San Antonio Musicians Society Hall of Fame

1986        Was asked to sing with the San Antonio Symphony, again.

02-87       Sang for British Prince Charles

02-87       Inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame

04-87       Named Honorary Grand Marshall for the Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade

05-87       Rosita’s Bridge was featured on the Texas Numismatic Association 29th Convention Medal

05-87       Additionally, she has received countless of Certificates of Appreciation for her work in telethons, benefits and other charity events. Events like fund raisers for the Earthquake Victims in Mexico, Texas Rehabiliation Center,  Peruvian Earthquake Orphans, Region VI Head Start and the Disabled American Veterans Helping Hands Lifeline Foundation to name a few.

09-13-87   Sang for Pope John Paul II

09-27-87   Sang for King Juan Carlos of Spain

NEWSPAPER & MAGAZINE COVERS

1953     New York’s Gotham LIFE Guide

1958     Appeared in LIFE Magazine

06-58    The Analog

1959     Appeared in LOOK Magazine

08-59    Events in San Antonio

06-64    Los Esperamos en San Antonio

10-64    Chicago Welcome

05-67    The Houston Post’s TEXAS Magazine

08-68    Appeared in LIFE Magazine with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey

02-73    The San Antonian

12-80    NUESTRO Magazine

1984     Kelly AFBÆs Hispanic's Magazine

In addition, Fernandez has appeared on many travel brochures and the cover of the San Antonio Express-News Weekender Magazine and San Antonio Star numerous times. And of course on the cover of numerous Fiesta Noche Del Rio programs that span over one quarter of a century.

DISCOGRAPHY

78 RPM SINGLES: also on RCA & Brunswick

1931     Fernandez recorded her first 78 rpm record, “Chaparita Pretenciosa,” with Trio San Miguel         BLUE BIRD
who were her uncles, Sotero, Fernando and Santiago San Miguel.

Elevo Al Cielo / El Ranchero Afamado   w/Sotero         VOCALION         8954

Mis Noches Son Años / Caramelo         KCOR

Era Rechula  w/Sotero San Miguel         no label

         R          RCA

Capricho Español / Sevillana’s         no label

Comienza En Ti / Polka San Antonio     w/Emilio Caceres Orch.         DECCA  10556

         BRUNSWICK

Vida / Nuestro Adios  w/The Mike Ornelas Orchestra         IDEAL   335

No Fuiste El Primero / No Faltaba Mas   w/Conjunto Ideal         IDEAL   467

Al Fin / Mi Fracaso  w/Conjunto Ideal         IDEAL   483

Tennessee Waltz / Condicion  w/Laura & Beto Villa         IDEAL   555

Contestacion A Cuano El Destino / Hablame Claro         IDEAL   648

Por Fin / Despacioso    duet w/Laura backed by  Beto Villa         IDEAL   696

Amor Que Malo Eres / Esperando   duet w/Laura   backed by Beto Villa         IDEAL   704

La Traidora / Ya Viene Mi Amor     duet w/Laura   backed by Beto Villa         IDEAL   708

Menita / Solo Por Ti         IDEAL   711

Boquita De Cielo / Tu Tienes La Culpa   w/Laura         IDEAL   740

Como Me Has Dejado / Yo Te Espero   w/Laura & Orquestra Continental         IDEAL   753

Porque No Me Haces Caso / Estrellita Del Sur   w/Chuy Compeon Orch.          IDEAL   780

Ambicion / No Mientas     duet with Laura   backed by Los Conquistadores         IDEAL    790

Adios Canoa / Entre Cadenas   w/Laura         IDEAL   807

No Se Hace Nada / Ni Que Agradecerte         IDEAL   811

Pasion Atormentada / Te Das Cuenta   w/Laura         IDEAL    815

Es Por Demas / Gracias Mi Amor  w/C. Compeon Orch.         IDEAL   822

Cuatro Caracolitos / Le Pido Al Cielo   w/Laura & Compeon Orch.         IDEAL   825

Fui A Tu Boda / Me Perteneces A Mi   w/Laura & B. Villa         IDEAL   834

Volvere otra Vez / Maria Chapucera   w/Laura & Los Conquistadores         IDEAL   873

Agonia  /  Mujerzuela     w/Los Conquistadores         IDEAL   877

Ni Por Favor  /  Pretende   w/Laura  & B. Villa         IDEAL   899

I Walk Alone / Amor         WILCOX-GAY

I'll Remember April / Cancion Del Mar         WILCOX-GAY

Que Puedo Esperar / No Mientas         WILCOX-GAY

06-53  Arthur Godfrey live recording of “Guadalajara”         ROCKHILL

07-53  Live Like A Millionair live recording of “Ama”         ROCKHILL

En Las Orillas del Mar / Caiste Por Fin  w/Aurelia & Conj. Pedro Rios         FALCÓN   901

Mentiras Tuyas / Tu Mala Entraña   w/Aurelia         FALCÓN   918

Pagina En Blanco / Suplica         FALCÓN   921

La Pajarera / Falsa Luna  duet w/Aurelia  backed by el Conjunto de Pedro Rios         FALCÓN   933

Quien Sera / Mi Imposible          CORONA   2107

1959     Jacaranda / Manana Me Voy         FALCÓN   1502

            Billed as "La Rosa de San Antonio," her song reached

            No. 3 in Mexico where the song was released as         PEERLESS   5940

Inquietud / Tequila Chaser  w/Ramiro Cervera         SOMBRERO   SO-123

45 RPM SINGLES

Llorando En Las Nubes / Ya Sin Quererte  w/Los Fantasticos Cucarachas         SOMBRERO   SO-2349

Two Names On A Wall / Love At First Sight  w/Lou Finley Orch.         IDEAL   45-4001

Guilty / Trapped         45-5000

1968     San Antonio Ciudad De Encantos / San Antonio inst.

            w/Mariachi Chapultepec         MIRADOR   MR-502

ALBUMS

Contrastes Musicales         NORTEÑO    NO. 821

San Antonio Rose         FALCÓN FLP-126

La Pajarera   w/Aurelia         FALCÓN FLP-127

San Antonio Rose          ECO   No. 20

Vuelve Beto Villa  w/Rosita Fernández         DLB   2011