(Image credit: FreddyFender.com)
Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Garcia Huerta in San Benito, Cameron County, Texas on June 4, 1937. His parents were Serapio and Margarita Garcia Huerta, who were migrant farm workers. Huerta was the oldest of four children and was raised around music, including lively “conjunto,” a traditional style of music that includes a blend of Tejano and references to German polka, including the use of an accordion. He performed as early as the age of ten on a Harlingen, Texas radio station. He dropped out of high school and lied about his age to join the United States Marine Corps. He served from 1954 to 1956. Huerta married in 1957 as he began to perform as “El Be-Bop Kid” and other stage names, doing covers of popular American hits of artists like Elvis Presley but singing them in Spanish. He and his wife Evangelina had five children. They divorced and remarried at one point, but otherwise were married for about forty-five years.
He adopted the name Freddy Fender in 1959. Fender was his favorite brand of guitar and the name Freddy seemed to go well with Fender. About that time, he signed with Imperial Records and began to record some songs with the label. His career was interrupted when he was arrested for marijuana possession. Upon his conviction, he served almost three years in Angola State Prison in Louisiana. After his release, he returned to school, played gigs on the weekends and held a number of jobs, including that of a car mechanic.
In 1974, he was advised to try releasing recordings in the country music genre. A successful product of this period was his hit song “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” which included a verse in Spanish. The song reached Number 1 on the country charts. Fender was named Billboard Magazine’s “Top Male Artist of 1975” and was also named “Most Promising Male Vocalist” by the Academy of Country Music. The next three years were some of his most successful, as he had a dozen songs that reached the top twenty and four that were Number 1 on the country charts.
He also began to appear in films, including: Mi Amigo (1998), Under South Texas Skies (short) (1991), Always Roses (short) (1990), Who Will Sing The Songs (1988), The Milagro Beanfield War (1981), She Came to the Valley (1978). His songs were also used in a number of film soundtracks.
According to his obituary in the New York Times, he reportedly suffered from the use of drugs and alcohol. Also, at various points, his career declined to nearly a standstill, but he kept fighting back and performing. In the late 1980s, he was one of the founders of a group called the Texas Tornados and the group toured throughout much of the next decade. He had additional success as a solo artist and another group known as Los Super Seven. He won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Album in 2002.
Finally, his health declined and ultimately failed. Fender passed away on October 14, 2006 and was buried with military honors in San Benito. In addition to the above mentioned awards, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a lifetime achievement award from the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame, and a star on the South Texas Music Wall of Fame, among others. He now has Freddy Fender Lane named for him and a museum in his honor in his home town of San Benito. He was always proud to acknowledge his Mexican-American roots and eagerly incorporated this in his music. Fender will be remembered a ground-breaking artist, an encouragement to others and an influential person in the rock, country and Tejano genres.
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