New Film Honors Late Musician Lalo Guerrero

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A PBS documentary celebrates legendary musician Lalo Guerrero. Host Farai Chideya talks to his son Dan Guerrero, one of the producers of the project.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Faria Chideya, and this is News & Notes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. EDUARDO LALO GUERRERO (Musician): (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

CHIDEYA: Musician Eduardo Lalo Guerrero was hailed as the father of Chicano music. His repertoire runs the gamut from politically charged corridos to musical satire. He died in March of last year. Now, a new documentary celebrates Lalo Guerrero's life and legacy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of movie, “Lalo Guerrero, The Original Chicano”)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: It's a God-given talent that I have and so, yeah. I think of myself - I just to love write and it's easy for me to make up melodies. I don't mean to be bragging, but it is easy for me make up melodies.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

CHIDEYA: You just heard a clip from the documentary Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano. The film airs on PBS this month. Lalo's son, Dan, has helped produced the project. Like his dad, Dan has long been in the spotlight. He's a successful producer, musician, opera director and the star of his own one-man show titled Gaytino, about growing up gay and Chicano.

Dan Guerrero joins us from Texas Public Radio in San Antonio.

Good to have you with us.

Mr. DAN GUERRERO (Son of Lalo Guerrero; Producer, Opera Director, Musician): Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Delighted to have you on. So it's a very moving documentary, and it really puts your father in a historical context and a cultural context. Why did you decide to do this?

Mr. D. GUERRERO: Well, actually, I didn't want to do it. I kept waiting for someone else to do it. There are so many fantastic documentary filmmakers and whereas I am producer, I produce, you know, television specials and award shows and concerts and live events at the Kennedy Center - so it's not really what I do. But the clock was ticking. No one else was doing it. And I have a good friend, Nancy De Los Santos, and she's also a producer and a writer. So we thought, you know what? If we don't do it, it ain't going to happen.

So that's how we ended up doing it. And I always wanted to do it because Dad was getting to an age where I was hearing a couple of things. Either young people would say, oh, Lalo Guerrero. Yeah, my parents used to buy his records, but they weren't really sure. Or, oh, yeah. He does those funny songs, those parodies. And yes, but he also does, you know, two million other things. And I just thought too many people knew too little about him. And so I thought it was important to really document it.

And as you point out - which I thank you for - in historical context, because he is Chicano history. I mean, he helped create Chicano history. He documented it through his music, you know. He always used to say, well, I only wrote about what I saw. But he wrote the first corrido that talked about Cesar Chavez and the plight of the farm workers. And he, you know, so he documented our history and that's what makes it so important.

CHIDEYA: The kind of cultural mixtures, I think, came out, I mean, in his sense of humor in the song No Tortillas. I mean, explain a little bit more about that song, because it's very funny.

(Soundbite of song, “There's No Tortillas”)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) I love tortillas. And I love them dearly. You'll never know just how sincerely. There's no tortilla.

Mr. D. GUERRERO: Isn't that hilarious bit? Well, he was a wacko. I mean, he was this fabulous, intelligent, brilliant musician. And at the same time, he was just hilarious with his really hilarious sense of humor. And he say - in the documentary, he talks about a lot of his songs just come from things that happen at the moment. And he used humor to get his point across, which is a very good way to do it, because you don't feel you're being lectured to. You don't feel you're being pushed into anything. You're just enjoying and laughing and then all of a sudden, you go and hey, why aren't there any Chicanos on TV?

(Soundbite of song, “No Chicanos on TV”)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) I think that I still never see any Chicanos on TV.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) It seems as though we don't need exist, and we're not ever even missed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: President Clinton awarded him a Medal of the Arts in a group that included Lionel Hampton and Robert Redford.

Former President BILL CLINTON: In 1980, this Smithsonian Institution named him a national folk treasure, and we are honored to honor him today.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHIDEYA: And then he got a lifetime achievement award from the Mexican Cultural Institute representing the Mexican government.

Mr. D. GUERRERO: Well, you know, the National Medal of Arts was something. And he was the first Chicano ever to receive the national medal of arts. At that time - which is 1997 - I think he had been around for about dozen years, 10, 12 years. They give 10 or 12 each year. And there had only been two - three other Latinos: Celia, Tito Puente and Jose Ferrer in all those years.

And, Dad was the first Chicano and only the fourth Latino to receive it. And when he got it, I remember, I think it was NBC or some television station did a story that they aired nationally. And he had the medal around his neck and he said that the medal made him feel for the first time like an American.

And I thought that was shocking and beautiful and tender and scary, that here was a man who was born and raised in this country - and who was obviously an American and who at that time was in his, you know, late 70s - that was the first time he felt like an American is when he received that medal.

CHIDEYA: That's a powerful statement.

Mr. D. GUERRERO: Very powerful. Very, very powerful.

CHIDEYA: Dan Guerrero, thank you so much.

Mr. D. GUERRERO: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Dan Guerrero was the son of popular Chicano musician Eduardo Lalo Guerrero. The performer's life is profiled in the documentary Lalo Guerrero: The Original Chicano. It airs on the new Latino series, Voces, this month on PBS.

(Soundbite of song, “No Chicanos on TV”)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) Huggies has its three babies, white and black and Japanese. Chicano babies also pee.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. E. GUERRERO: (Singing) But they don't show them on TV.

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