Commentary: Puro Freddy Fender: Marker Unveiling 10 Years in the Making

Words by Ray Quiroga

Edited by Abigail Vela

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in the Mar. 23, 2023 edition of the San Benito News and is being edited and reprinted here with the publisher’s permission.

 

It’s been a long time coming — 10 years to be exact— since the family of the Resaca City’s favorite son, legendary songster Freddy Fender was awarded a Texas Historical Marker for Fender’s boyhood home within San Benito’s El Jardin neighborhood. But for several reasons, the marker sat in storage in Fender’s former Corpus Christi residence. Fender passed away in Corpus Christi on Oct. 14, 2006.

Now, in collaboration with Fender’s family, the members of the San Benito Historical Society (SBHS) have spearheaded an effort to secure the marker and have organized a dedication and unveiling ceremony set for Saturday, April 15, 2023, at 10 a.m. at 143 Freddy Fender Lane in San Benito. The public is invited to attend the free event. The locale is not exactly Fender’s boyhood home, which has since gone into disrepair and has been demolished, but down the street at his first home, acquired when he and his wife, Evangelina “Vangie” Muniz, were newlyweds. The house is also adjacent to his brother’s residence, according to Sandra Tumberlinson, SBHS treasurer.

“The family was awarded the marker ten years ago, in 2013,” Tumberlinson explained. “(Former State) Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. and (former State) Congressman Rene Oliveira signed off on it, and it was approved; but for ten years, circumstances didn’t allow them (the family( to (erect or) dedicate the marker.”

“We’re going to place it at the home where they (Freddy and his wife) lived as newlyweds, a very nice brick home, which is right across the Resaca on Freddy Fender Lane, which is next door to his brother’s home, so it’s perfect,” Tumberlinson said.

Tumberlinson noted that event organizers thought it would be apropos for one of the keynote speakers at the dedication ceremony to be former State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. since he helped the family acquire the marker a decade ago. “I thought it would be a good conclusion to the story,” Tumberlinson remarked.


After the dedication ceremony, the public is invited to visit the Freddy Fender Museum at the old San Benito Community Building, 210 E. Heywood, to view Fender’s Grammies, Gold Records, and a variety of other artifacts representing Fender’s career which spanned over a half-century prior to his death, and which is all situated within the museum’s 450 sq. ft. of space. Most of the memorabilia was acquired from the family’s archives. The museum opened its doors in late 2007, according to archival records. 

A purple graphic split in two; both sides are symmetrical, showing two black circles representing records with gold at their center. Text on the bottom left of the graphic reads “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” and the text on the bottom right reads “Wasted Nights.”
Illustration by Sandro Galicia aka Face To Face Art

Fender received his gold records on display at the museum for “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” His blue Harley-Davidson and awards, such as “Most Promising Male Vocalist” from the Academy of Country Music, which he received in 1975, are also on display.

Fender, whose birth name is Baldemar Garza Huerta, was born in San Benito on June 4, 1937, and he later attended San Benito schools before dropping out at 16. He then enlisted with the US Marines and served in the military for three years.

According to his online biography, Fender’s musical career and genre evolved through the years as he reinvented his career — time and again — to incorporate Rock N Roll, country, and country-Tejano into his musical repertoire. He was known for his work as a solo artist as well as in the groups Los Super Seven and the Texas Tornados. However, he was best known for his 1975 hits, the aforementioned “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and the subsequent remake of his own “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”

During an appearance with the Texas Tornados on “Late Night with David Letterman,” on Dec. 18, 1990, the legendary comedy host introduced Fender as “one of the greatest voices in all of music.” Fender also starred in television shows and movies, mostly playing bit parts such as Mayor Sammy Cantu alongside actors Ruben Blades and Christopher Walken in 1988 critically acclaimed motion picture, “The Milagro Beanfield War” directed by one of Hollywood’s all-time great luminaries, Robert Redford.

Always proud of his San Benito and Mexican-American roots, Fender was quick to correct reporters who attempted to paint El Jardin as a slum, saying it wasn’t a ghetto but a poor Mexican-American neighborhood with proud, hard-working people. He was also known to specify his native town during live performances. In 1990, Fender performed as part of the Grammy Award-winning supergroup, the Texas Tornados (Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez) in the acclaimed, nationally televised PBS show, “Austin City Limits” donning a grey, off-the-rack, San Benito Greyhound t-shirt underneath a blue denim vest. The Texas Tornados, incidentally, were also featured in the soundtrack album for the 1996 golfing flick/romantic comedy “Tin Cup,” starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, and Don Johnson.

In recent months, a grassroots movement to have Fender inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN., has mustered momentum. Tumberlinson hopes the attention garnered from the historical marker unveiling will keep Fender and the movement in the spotlight.

Tumberlinson said that when the effort to begin a petition to have Fender included in the hall commenced, the SBHS representatives searched for the marker and realized it had yet to be erected. Thus, the effort began to reach out to the family, specifically Vangie, to locate the marker.

Illustration by Sandro Galicia aka Face To Face Art.

“Freddy, according to many people, including his widow, wanted to help the city. He wanted his name to help San Benito. It’s all he wanted to do was to help his hometown. He wanted it to benefit from his legacy, and we have,” Tumberlinson remarked. “We are known across the world as the birthplace of Freddy Fender. We have people coming in from Sweden, from Germany, and say, ‘We love Freddy Fender over there, and we wanted to come see his artifacts,’ so they come here for Freddy Fender. So he is fulfilling his dream and wishes to help San Benito,” Tumberlinson concluded. 


Petition To Induct Freddy Fender Into Country Music Hall of Fame

According to the petition to have Fender inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, his accolades included, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Three-time Grammy Award Winner
  • 24 Billboard Hot Country Songs charted (four of which reached number one)
  • Amusement & Music Operators Association (AMOA) Jukebox Awards for highest earning songs played on a jukebox
  • Single of the Year at the 1975 Country Music Association Awards


Additionally, from 1974 to 1983, Fender released 16 albums, with 24 songs charting successfully in both Country and Pop, many featuring lyrics in English and Spanish.

Sign the petition to induct Freddy Fender into the Country Music Hall of Fame! 


Help us reach 5,000 signatures! As of April 10, 2023, the petition has generated 4,293 signatures.

Check out San Benito Historical Society on Facebook for more information on the unveiling ceremony.

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