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Lydia Mendoza Collection

Identifier: MSS-0123

Scope and Contents

The collection spans from 1933 to 2001 with the bulk of the materials dating from 1933 to 1979. It consists of 3 boxes arranged in the following series’ Awards, Contracts, Correspondence, Interviews, Newspaper Articles, Performances, Miscellaneous, Photographs, Oversized Materials. The first box holds 36 folders of documents and records; these include recording company contracts, correspondence from fans, oral history interviews, newspaper articles, and 30 folders of advertisements, programs, and handbills for performances by Lydia Mendoza. The second box consists of 75 photographs. Scanned black and white copies are available for most photographs. The third and largest box contains 16 individual oversized items. These include publications, large advertisements and handbills for performances by Lydia Mendoza, as well as albums by Mendoza from various recording companies. Patrons will also find scanned copies for a significant number of documents and records in this collection.

Specific items of interest in this collection include:

•Letter of appreciation from Jimmy Carter (B. 1, F.5)

•Letters to Lydia Mendoza from fans (written in Spanish) (B.1, F.4)

•Oral History Interviews with Mendoza, 1978-1979 (B.1, F.7-8)

•Partial note possibly written by Lydia Mendoza (B.1, F.31)

•Scripts written about Lydia Mendoza for television (B.1, F.34)

•Poems written in tribute to (B.1, F.36)

•Photographs of various entertainers. Many of these are signed by the artist with notes to Lydia Mendoza. (B.2, F.52-67)


  • 1933-2001
  • Majority of material found in 1933-1979


A significant portion of this collection is in the Spanish language.

Access Restrictions


Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Lydia Mendoza Collection must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical Note

Popular American singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Lydia Mendoza was born in Houston on May 21, 1916. She grew up in the Heights where she taught herself to play the guitar and began her career as a singer at an early age. Since 1927 she traveled with her family’s band around the United States performing for Mexican Americans. Like most other Mexican American families during the 1920s and 1930s the Mendoza’s were also part of the migrant trail. Traveling north across the United States to look for work; avoiding the growing discrimination and repatriation efforts of the time. The family returned to Houston and began to focus all energies on the family band. During the 1930’s, Mendoza began her career as a solo artist performing in several Houston theaters and clubs. Her first solo single in 1934 “Mal Hombre” became her signature song. Mendoza played tejano and conjunto music among other styles and she came to be known by many names such as The First Lady of Tejano and La Alondra de la Frontera (the Meadowlark of the Border). During the 1940s and 1950s she became a sensation in Mexico and throughout Latin America, performing with many famous Mexican entertainers of the time. In the 1970s she performed in folk music festivals across the United States and was recognized in a classic documentary about border music titled “Chulas Fronteras.”

Her popularity spanned generations and social classes; her music was celebrated in presidential inaugurations as well as in the barrios. With a career that spanned over 60 years, Mendoza received many accolades as a Tejana artist including the National Medal of Arts in 1999. Mendoza recorded over 50 LPs and roughly 200 songs. She died in 2007 at the age of 91.

Historical Note

At the time of Lydia Mendoza’s rise to fame Mexican and Mexican American female solo performers were rare. Mendoza paired her voice with only her signature 12-string guitar and nothing more. She was also known for singing in the vernacular and quickly earned the nickname La Cancionera de los Pobres (the Songstress of the Poor). She was not a trained vocalist; instead she sang the way the working class sang. These unique qualities about her performance made her a relatable and iconic figure for both Mexican and Mexican American people.

It is also important to note the discrimination towards Mexicans and Mexican Americans that was prevalent in the United States at the time Mendoza was growing up and during the early years of her career. According to interviews published in the book Lydia Mendoza: A Family Autobiography, the Mendoza family slept in churches and cooked their own meals while touring in order to avoid the discriminatory practices of hotels and restaurants.


1 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Arrangement Note

This collection contains 3 boxes, arranged into series by topic.

There is a separate series for photographs and oversized materials.

Items within each folder are arranged chronologically, with undated items placed last.

The Spanish language was used only when it was considered significant to the item.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Lydia Mendoza on April 5, 1979.

Existence and Location of Copies

Photographs from this collection have been digitized and are available for viewing on the Houston Public Library Digital Archive. Visit

Related Items Note

Please note that one oral history interview exists (OH 254).


Processing Information

Processed by Mikaela Selley on August 21, 2012
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center Repository


The African American Library at the Gregory School
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston Metropolitan Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002