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December 22

What Makes Freddy Fender An Extraordinary Artist?

Do you still remember the 1975 hit song, Before the Next Teardrop Falls? If you do, then you are probably among the listeners who have grown fond of Mexican-American country singer Freddy Fender’s music.

It is no surprise that Fender would make such a huge fuss in the music industry, considering how his songs merged so well with his distinct and captivating voice and style of singing. His music had its own signature touch, and it stood out among other hit country songs during his time. Quite spectacularly, he was able to release three number one hits in just a single year. Before the Next Teardrop Falls and Wasted Days and Wasted Nights snagged the top spot on the Country charts and the rock/pop music charts. His other works that topped music charts in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia include Secret Love, You’ll Lose A Good Thing, Vaya Con Dios, Living it Down, The Rains Came, and Are You Ready For Freddy?

Some would attribute Fender’s amazing success to the power of magic, but really, his impressive record wasn’t something he achieved overnight. Truth be told, he, too, struggled before he was able to get his big break.

He was born in San Benito, Texas as Baldemar Garza Huerta. He is widely recognized as an artist in various genres like Tejano, country, rock, and swamp pop. He is also a fine guitarist. From debuting at 10 years old for a performance on Harlingen’s radio station, KGBT, to being enlisted for three years in the U.S.Marine Corps and later on wrongly discharged for alcoholism to performing in bars, honky-tonks, and nightclubs in Texas, it was clear that his musical career was also a colorful journey. His initial exposure as an artist catered mostly to Latino audiences. He was then dubbed ‘El Bebop Kid’ in 1957, and he released two songs, South America and Mexico. Both tracks achieved only lukewarm success in the industry.

Fender also released Spanish versions of some hit country songs such as Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart, Elvis Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel, and Harry Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell. As his career began to rise, he soon changed his name legally to Freddy Fender in 1958. According to the suave singer, the name Fender was taken after the amplifier and guitar, while Freddy was chosen because it made the perfect and sellable alliteration. He immediately flew to California after changing his name.

Despite his success, he also struggled with alcoholism and was even arrested for possession of marijuana sometime during the 1960’s. Near the end of the said year, fans saw less of Freddy Fender. As it turns out, he began playing only during the weekends and returned to Texas as a mechanic while he attended a local junior college.

As a successful singer, Freddy Fender received numerous awards, some of which are:

  • 1975 Most Promising Male Vocalist, Academy of Country Music
  • 1975 Single of the Year for Before the Next Teardrop Falls, Country Music Association
  • 1990 Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album for Texas Tornados, Grammy Awards
  • 1999 Best Mexican/American Performance for Los Super Seven, Grammy Award

He also had big dreams of being the first Mexican-American to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In the end, he was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame (1987), European Walk of Fame (1993), Hollywood Walk of Fame (1999), Texas Music Hall of Fame (1999), Nashville Sidewalk of Stars (1999), and in the Louisiana Hall of Fame (2001).

In 2002, Freddy Fender underwent a kidney transplant (the donor being his daughter), and a liver transplant in 2004. There was even a time when he was incorrectly reported dead by Billboard on March 13, 2001. Still, the transplants did not help improve his condition, especially after the doctors found tumors in his lungs. He performed his final concert in December 2005, before resuming fully to chemotherapy.

He bid his fans and loved ones his eternal goodbye in 2006 after losing his battle with lung cancer. A museum called Freddy Fender Museum, along with a charitable cause named Freddy Fender Scholarship Fund was established in his honor. The scholarship fund is still being maintained by his family at present, with the goal of continuing all of the benevolent causes that the Tejano country singer supported.


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