Freddy Fender was international star with South Texas roots

When Baldemar Huerta would tell the story of his childhood, it started in San Benito, where he was born in 1937 to parents who worked as migrant laborers. They’d travel throughout the south to pick cotton, tomatoes and beets. He recalled relaxing after long days in beer joints, listening to blues musicians.

He never was good at picking the wooly stuff, he would tell people. But he did learn to pick a guitar.

Musician Freddy Fender in 1999 (top left) and 1979 (right). An advertisement (bottom left) from the Sept. 21, 1979 Corpus Christi Caller announced Fender's performance at the Yellow Rose Convention Center.

Huerta turned his skill and voice into a decades-spanning and multi-genre musical career, but most people know him under his stage name, Freddy Fender.

Fender’s music career began in the 1950s as a teen, and after a three-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1957 his Spanish-language versions of Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell” became hits in Mexico and Latin America. He performed under several names — El Bebop Kid, Eddie Medina, and Scotty Wayne — before settling on Freddy Fender, named for his favorite guitar brand. On the back of his album he included that he changed his name to help his “music sell better with the gringos.”

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