Picture a living room in a stately home. The walls are adorned by an eclectic mix of paintings. The furniture and fixtures are modest and refined, save for a large, ornate wooden table in the middle of the room. Four friends are seated at the table, sharing stories and laughter over wine. Before long, the conversation turns to music and a game begins. Each person takes a turn recommending a song, and they play it and listen together. One of the two gentlemen suggests a particular artist, and as her distinctive voice fills the room, the friends close their eyes and savour the velvety caress of her deep, smoky resonance. This distinctive voice belongs to Amalia Mendoza.
Amalia Mendoza García (1923–2001) was one of Mexico’s most famous ranchera singers whose career lasted over 40 years. Hers was a family of musicians from San Juan Huetamo, Michoacán. Her brothers were the trío Tariácuri, and Mendoza and her sister Perla performed as a duo known as Las Taricuristas. Mendoza herself became known as “La Tariácuri;” this was the Purépecha Indians’ word for their king or their tribe.
Mendoza’s solo career began in 1954 with her recording of “Puñalada Trapera,” written by Tomás Méndez Sosa. She became increasingly famous as she recorded more songs and started broadcasting over Mexico’s top radio station at the time, XEW. Over the years, she worked with numerous musicians and songwriters, including El Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, José Alfredo Jiménez, Cuco Sánchez, José Ángel Espinosa, and Gabriel Ruiz.
Like many of her contemporaries, Mendoza also performed in films. She earned credit as an actress in seven, appearing as herself in four of them: Fiesta en el corazón (1958), El puño del amo (1958), Yo… el aventurero (1959), and ¿Dónde estás, corazón? (1961). She’s also credited with contributing to the soundtracks of four additional films, meaning that she worked on a total of eleven during her career.
But more important than her radio music or film work, Mendoza was known for her highly dramatic and emotional performances. She once remarked, “I cry when I sing because I have known sadness in my life. I live what I sing. I tell a story and I become that person in it.” Los Angeles Times writer Pepe Arciga offered a rave review of her 1965 headlining at the famous Million Dollar Theatre at 3rd Street and Broadway. “Backed by the potent mariachi Los Camperos, Miss Mendoza elegantly sobs her way through ‘Qué Bonito Es Llorar,’ ‘Mi Paloma Blanca,’ and ‘Entre Tus Brazos,’” he wrote. “Her style, not unlike that of Peggy Lee, is quietly spectacular. She tackles lyrics with special relish and soon you’re in the palm of her hand. Consequently, you’re ready to applaud rabidly on completion of the last bar.”
With her distinctive and deeply rich voice and her flair for the dramatic, Mendoza enchanted her audiences, all the way to her retirement, which she announced in 1985. Two days after the announcement, she filled the Pico Rivera Sports Arena for a final concert. Imagine the scene. It’s said that Mendoza was carried into the arena by two charros (traditional Mexican horse riders) while roses rained down upon her from adoring fans shouting for autographs.While she officially retired in 1985, Mendoza recorded one final and very successful album in 1996 called “Las Tres Señoras” with renowned singers Lola Beltrán and Lucha Villa.
Picture of Amalia Mendoza from El repositorio digital de acceso abierto del Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia de México