For many years mariachi bands consisted of only men (and that was just the way it was). Mariachi music has been completely male-driven from the beginning. Women were only there to cheer on the mariachis and dance.
However, this practice has changed dramatically in the past 100 years.
Three women are known for breaking through the all-male boundaries that had been there for so many years.
In this article, you will learn about:
- Lucha Reyes, one of the first female mariachi singers
- Linda Ronstadt, an American folk singer that embraced her heritage through mariachi music
- Laura Sobrino, a woman that has encouraged female musicians and enabled all-female mariachi bands to stay strong
These women were determined to change the stereotype of male-only mariachi bands and on their journey they would make an unbelievable expansion for women in mariachi music.
As early as the 1930’s, women began as lead singers in mariachi groups.
Lucha Reyes was turning heads at the age of 13 as she got her start singing at a local plaza in her hometown, Guadalajara, Jalisco.
She would travel to the U.S. to study voice as a soprano and then tour all across the states. After going on tour in the states, she moved on to conquer Europe.
Not realizing the cold of winter was different in Europe than in Mexico, she became ill.
This illness would change her voice from soprano to alto. However, this hardship would not stop her from making her dreams of being a world renowned singer come true.
In the 1930’s she would star in several movies back in Mexico, all of which showcased her voice with a mariachi band in the background.
Her voice was extremely expressive and just as dominant as a male voice. Many considered the idea of singing lead in a mariachi band to be daring enough, but she did on the movie screen too.
Lucha died at the early age of 38, but she would begin a new chapter in the world of mariachi music.
Through the next few decades many other female singers would get their big break. Singers like Lola Beltran and Amelia Mendoza broke through the male-only barriers of mariachi music.
However, those were barriers in Latin-America.
In the US, mariachi music was not as popular. However, one singer, surprised many when she made an album called “Canciones de mi Padre”, which would later reach platinum.
Her name is Linda Ronstadt and her album would feature her voice along with the famous Mariachi Vargas in the background.
It showed her true love for the music of her childhood.
Linda started out as a young folk singer in the 70′s, but many say her voice sounds more powerful in this album than in any of her other albums because she is mariachi at heart.
She astonished mariachi fans both in the Latin America and the United States with this album and other mariachi performances.
She also gained fans from all over the world as she sang these traditional mariachi songs.
Linda was merely singing songs that reminded her of her father, but underneath it all she was expressing her love for her heritage. And that was not seen very often in Hollywood stars at that time.
Today we see an even bigger movement in mariachi music — a movement that includes women not only as singers, but as musicians.
Laura Sobrino started playing the violin in the 8th grade. She studied music all through school and even pursued a degree in music in California.
She took some time off to go to Mexico and learn Spanish and fell in love with mariachi music. When she returned to college, she joined a college mariachi band.
This opened the doors for her and gave her opportunities to be the first woman musician to play in popular bands like Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey and the Mariachi Sol de México de José L. Hernández.
Now in her 40’s (as of this writing), Laura directs an all-female mariachi group called Mariachi Mujer 2000.
She also pursued her dream of teaching and now holds a mariachi publishing company for transcribing mariachi music in an effort to keep the music authentic to how it should be played.
She is married with two kids.
The fact that there are still people opposed to women mariachi musicians makes Laura strive even more to keep the heritage and musical culture alive.
What these women all have in common is the determination to continue doing what they loved, regardless of the push back they got from others.
Each of these women went through their own life changing experiences and came out stronger than before.
Their determination to stay true to themselves and focus on their passion has given women in mariachi bands the ability to change with the times.
- Lucha Reyes overcame the loss of her soprano voice and unveiled a mariachi sound no one else could match.
- Linda Ronstadt unleashed a part of her heritage that she was proud of and expressed it in an album which welcomed new, non-traditional fans to the mariachi style of music.
- And Laura Sobrino has become a true role model for women musicians and continues to play mariachi music in her all-female band.
Through the years more women have fallen in love with mariachi music and mariachi music fans have fallen in love with them too.
Amy Lieberman | Laura Sobrino