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Lalo Guerrero Memorial Service- Palm Springs, California
March 21, 2005

by Mark Guerrero

     At 12 noon on Monday, March 21, 2005 we held a memorial mass for my dad, Lalo Guerrero, at Our Lady of Solitude church in Palm Springs, California.  My dad had lived in the Coachella Valley, of which Palm Springs is a part, since 1973.  I moved to the valley in 1990.  I'm glad I did because I got to spend a lot of time with him during what turned out to be the last 15 years of his life.  In 1998, I bought a house which happened to be a few blocks away from his house in Cathedral City, which is adjacent to Palm Springs.  That worked out well too because I was close by as he needed more and more assistance as he got older and more frail.  Lalo Guerrero passed away peacefully at the age of 88 on March 17, 2005.  My brother Dan and I wanted to have his memorial services occur in a timely manner so I immediately went about securing the church and a venue for the reception which was to follow the service, while my brother set up the church and reception for the service and reception for Tucson, Arizona, my dad's hometown.

     Our Lady of Solitude church in Palm Springs turned out to be the perfect setting for the memorial mass.  It's a older Spanish-style church, which had recently been refurbished on the inside in the mission style.  It had seating for 300 people.  As it turned out, all the seats were filled with about 100 additional people standing.  My brother commented during his eulogy that my dad would have loved that he had a standing room crowd.  We were very pleased, especially because word only started to get out about the date and location of the service two days prior.  Family members attending, besides my brother and me, were his widow, Lidia and her two children Jose, 39, and Patty, 36, whom my dad adopted and raised from a young age.  Also, Patty's son and daughter, Jason, 17, and Alana, 7.  My mom, Margaret, whom my dad married in 1939 and was married to him for 24 years, could not make it because, ironically, she fell and broke her arm the day after my dad's passing.  My 10 year old daughter, Maya, also did not attend because she didn't think she could handle it.  Another interesting irony was that this day, March 21st, was my birthday.  Many musicians were in attendance including Ry Cooder, Trini Lopez, Chan Romero, Max Uballez, Justo Almario, Steve Alaniz, Willie Loya, Ruben Guevara, Ernie Hernandez, John Valenzuela, Trini Basulto, Lorenzo Martinez, Tim Gross, Alex Armstrong, David Allen Cruz, and Carmencristina Moreno.  There were also many friends, relatives, and others whom my dad may not have known whose lives had been touched by him and his music.  In front of the congregation on the right side of the altar area was a 24" x 36" mounted black and white photo of my dad in his prime with a classic microphone from the 1940s also in the picture.  In front of the photo, which was on an easel, was a Martin acoustic guitar he had bought in 1941 and given to me in the late 60s, when I had it refurbished.  A bizarre thing happened to the photo at the beginning of the service.  When the priest and his two altar boys were blessing the photo, some holy water hit the photo and dripped down the image of my dad's face.  For a moment it looked as if the image on the photo might be crying and some may have thought some kind of miracle was occurring.  My dad was an amazing person but can I assure you, it was definitely the holy water.  We had to have another mounted enlarged photo made quickly to take to the Tucson memorial the next day.

     The service was a mariachi mass with about fifteen musicians up in the balcony at the rear of the church.  The group was made up of various excellent local mariachis including members of Grupo Tenampa, who had a good and long-time relationship with my dad.  The rousing, emotional music helped make the service more of a celebration of a full and amazing life, than a solemn, depressing affair.  After one of their songs, the mariachi yelled out in unison "que viva Lalo" to which the entire congregation repeated the phrase in a call and response manner several times.  The Reverend Miguel Ceja presided over the service in a similar spirit.  He also led the congregation in some rousing call and response moments as well as injecting a bit of humor at times.  He conducted the mass bilingually and proved to be the perfect priest for the mass.  World-class opera singer, Suzanna Guzman (originally from East L.A.), sang a beautiful  a cappella version of "Our Father," followed by Maria Elena Gaitan (a.k.a. Chola con Cello), who played an instrumental version of my dad's classic "Barrio Viejo."  My brother Dan followed with his eloquent, emotional, and sometimes humorous eulogy.  He shared some of his memories of our dad and quoted from some e mails he received from people we'd never met whose lives were affected by our dad's life and music.  He ended his eulogy by asking the congregation to stand and give our dad a standing ovation, to which they enthusiastically obliged.  My eulogy was last.  I spoke, with some emotional difficulty, about some childhood memories of my dad as well as various musical experiences I shared with him.  I also read a paragraph I wrote about my dad's musical legacy.  I concluded my eulogy by singing my 1992 song, "The Ballad of Lalo Guerrero."  There was another long standing ovation.  The emotion and outpouring of love was palpable in the church and made the memorial mass a magical and unforgettable experience for everyone who was fortunate enough to be there.  No one will ever forget it.  At the nearby Cathedral City civic center, on Avenida Lalo Guerrero, the flags at city hall were at half mast and black ribbons were placed on his street signs.  A couple of weeks later, the Cathedral City city council presented a posthumous proclamation to our family.  See below for the text of my statement at the memorial mass about my dad's musical legacy as well as the lyrics to my tribute song, followed by a short account of the reception which followed the service:

Lalo Guerrero's Musical Legacy

     Lalo Guerrero is “The Father of Chicano Music.”  He will forever be known as “The Father of Chicano Music” because his musical career as a singer/songwriter produced a body of work of a quality, quantity, and diversity that is unparalleled.  And I’m not talking about only in Chicano music.  It’s unparalleled period.  He wrote and recorded rancheras, boleros, tex mex, musica norteña, banda, cumbias, mambos, rumbas, Spanish language covers of American hits, swing, boogie woogie, blues, rock & roll, songs of social relevance, as well as comedy, parodies, and children’s music.  He was the first to use caló (pachuco slang) on record.  He did this first with the Trio Imperial, before recording songs such as “Los Chucos Suaves” and “Chicas Patas Boogie” with his Cinco Lobos in the late 40s.  As if all that weren’t enough, he was a world class vocalist, who could have held his own with the best singers in mainstream American popular music.  I have the recordings to prove it.  He also had that magic ingredient called charisma.  There never has, and never will be anyone like him.  He’s no longer with us, but his music and spirit will remain with us and endure for future generations.


Mark Guerrero
(eulogy and song)

The Ballad of Lalo Guerrero

In Tucson, Arizona on a cold Christmas eve
In nineteen hundred and sixteen the world was to receive
An infant with the promise to achieve renown
And from a small adobe house his music would resound
And since we’re gathered here today
Father I just want to say

Thank you for your “Cancion Mexicana”
Expressing all your love for Mexico
From all of your hermanos y hermanas
Your legend’s got a long long way to go

His childhood was painful, smallpox took its toll
The scars it left were many to his body and his soul
But his spirit was not conquered, his love of life prevailed
And though he made mistakes in life his music never failed
You made us laugh through all the tears
You brought us joy throughout the years

Thank you for your rocking “Elvis Perez”
Thank you for your jolly “Pancho Claus”
Las Ardillitas and your “Pancho Lopez”
I hope you feel the love in our applause

And “Los Chucos Suaves”, they dance the night away
To “Chicas Patas Boogie” and you can hear them say

Thank you for your love songs and corridos
Songs that helped the people of Aztlán
Thank you for your melodies and ritmos
And the voice we love to sing the songs
We hope that you believe us
We love you además
Your music will not leave us
“Nunca Jamas”

Words & Music by Mark Anthony Guerrero
c 1994 Mark A. Guerrero.  All Rights Reserved

     After the service, there was a reception for friends and family at Las Casuelas Terraza, a few blocks from the church.  This is the beautiful Mexican restaurant and cantina where I perform regularly.  A buffet was set up, courtesy of owners Ric Service and Patty Delgado, in the outdoor cantina.  Lorenzo Martinez, who had played guitarrón with me and my dad in Paris, France and other venues in the late 90s, took the stage with some of his musician friends on other acoustic guitars and began to sing and play.  My longtime musical partner Alex Armstrong joined in on requinto and the jam was off and running.  Saxophone legend Justo Almario played, as did Willie Loya on congas.  Willie had played with my dad and me often in the late 90s in the Second Generation Band.  Steve Alaniz, another great sax player who'd also played with the Second Generation Band, as well as with my current Mark Guerrero & Radio Aztlán, joined in when I got up to sing my dad's "Los Chucos Suaves" and "Tin Marin de do Pingue."  David Allen Cruz, a former teatro campesino member who had sung with me in the late 80s in Palm Springs, and Carmencristina Moreno, a brilliant and powerful singer who goes way back our family, also sang with the makeshift, but excellent band.  The reception went on all day.  At 5:30 my band went on to do our regularly scheduled gig.  Many of the reception guests stayed well into the night.  It seems many didn't want the special day to end.  Click below to read about the Tucson memorial mass and reception.
 

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