For decades, Little Joe y La Familia have synthesized Tejano with jazz, country, and rock & roll. Along the way, they and their frontman’s groundbreaking status has been bolstered by four Grammys, beginning
with recognition for 1991 classic 16 de Septiembre, the first Tejano title to win in the Best Mexican-American Album category. Still, singer José Hernández remains humble.
“I was never a formally trained musician,” admits the 77-year-old vocalist. “I’m limited and I sometimes feel like I get too much credit.”
Growing up poor in a predominantly black neighborhood of Temple, a young Hernández listened to Western swing and big band swing on the radio. His family, including a dozen siblings, added to a
“I remember my brothers and sisters bringing in original recordings from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald,” he recalls. “My dad and his compadres would sing loudly to Spanish music at the big parties we had at the house. It’s a part of my DNA.”
This upbringing can be heard in cuts like the spiraling flourish of “Anna,” off 1973’s Total, and a symphonic reworking of Tejano classic “Las Nubes” from the previous year’s Para La Gente. The latter resonated in the working-class struggle of many Latinos in the Southwest.
Hernández’s support for Chicanos extended far beyond his music career, which launched at the age of 13 in his cousin’s band. He continually backed the political and socioeconomic interests of working-class Mexican-Americans and co-founded the Chicano Alliance Network.
“Throughout my career, much of the Spanish music was imported and I remember in one major label offer, the executive told me, ‘If you sell 20,000 copies, I’ll walk to Texas and personally get drunk with you,’” remembers Hernández. “It almost felt insulting, so I started my own record label. I wanted to do things my way.”
Sun., Aug. 26, 11:30am