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Rancho Alegre Radio (RAR): Greetings, friends, I’m Baldomero Cuellar with Rancho Alegre Radio, here with the famous legend, La Paloma Del Norte, Beatriz –
Beatriz Llamas (BL): Don’t say “of the South,” I’m from the North.
RAR: (laughter) Beatriz Llamas. Beatriz, thank you so much for having us here in your house.
BL: On the contrary, it’s a pleasure to welcome you into my humble home. But please no estan lleven, okay?
RAR: Let’s start…where were you born?
BL: In Aguas Calientes. I came to the United States at the age of 11 years old. In Aguas Caliente, we lived like wealthy people. We had two maids and everything.
But here, we were the maids. We ironed, took care of children, and you name it.
RAR: So you started over again.
BL: Yes. All over again. But I was just a girl, I wanted to play. And I tried to go to school, but they didn’t accept me because I didn’t have papers. So I only went to school two more years.
RAR: And when did you get married?
BL: The first time, because I’ve been married twice…I was still a girl, and there was a very handsome singer. He said, “I want this young girl to sing with me!” But there was a lot of jealousy and I didn’t want any of it.
The second time… was 1960 or 1962. We had three children. And when my oldest son was 5 years old, my other sons were 3 years old and 15 months old, my husband was killed in an explosion at work in Chicago.
So it was a battle. I’m going to say something because I don’t like charmentiras. I don’t like elections of music or singing or nothing. I have no education or schooling…I was a worker. A burrita…but a very beautiful one! Ha ha!
See, I like to play like that. Is that okay?
RAR: No it’s great.
BL: Because if it’s not, I take it all back.
RAR: No, I want the audience to know who you are.
BL: Excellent, I’m playful, witty, and I like to have a good time with my friends, and nice to the people who are interested in something in my life. I don’t want to be abandoned in a corner with people asking, “who is this lady?” But thankfully, I have a little bit of a voice, and I love...gossip, no no…I love art, but I miss the applause, and the love from the people.
RAR: Well, we want to thank you for your beautiful recordings, and on Discos Bego, it was always only men who recorded there. You never heard anything from the women. So when I found your album and played it for the first time, I told everyone, I need to find this voice!
BL: Aww, how nice!
RAR: And a lot of times, you listen to an album, you want to find out who it is, and you can’t find out anything about them. Maybe they died, who knows?
BL: No, no I’m old, but I’m still around.
RAR: It happens with a lot of people, I thought that Agapito Zuñiga had passed away, however we found out he was alive. And two years after we interviewed him, he passed on.
BL: And that could happen at any moment. You don’t live forever. Next to my bed, I have all these perfumes and creams and everything that comes with age. This is me? But I’m happy because I’m still able to do things, and I still love having my kids over to eat and enjoy life. God has given me blessings and I wouldn’t say I’m a bad woman.
(to her son, sitting in the kitchen) Isn’t that true?
(lots of laughter)
RAR: Ha ha, amigos, we’re here with Beatriz Llamas, and we’ll return after some of her music her on Rancho Alegre Radio.
RAR: And we’re back with Beatriz Llamas, La Paloma Del Norte, on Rancho Alegre Radio.
Okay… Bego Records…how did that come to pass? A company dominated by men…
BL: I’ll tell you…when I got married in El Ranchito night club, there, we celebrated my wedding because we didn’t have any money. We weren’t planning on anything, but the owner of the night club said that he was already going to have a conjunto there and this would be a cheaper way to do it. He also said that I was a “somebody” in the business and it wouldn’t look right not to celebrate my wedding.
She figured, why not. Paulino was playing that night. At the time, I sang with a different group. He heard my voice, and came and asked me if I wanted to record with Bego. He said he would pay me. I couldn’t believe it. “Really?”
“I would like to record tomorrow,” he said. I said okay, but if you hire me, you hire my husband too. He agreed, but said my husband wasn’t going to make any money, I was going to be the one getting paid.
My husband had $20 in his pocket, enough for gas to McAllen. We got there at night. Paulino said, “Okay let’s record.” I said, record what? I don’t have anything. It was a total surprise.
My husband said, “what are we going to record?”
I said that there was a song I liked from Lucha Moreno. She recorded “Cariño Santo.” But we could make it more of a corridita because she recorded three for four.
I had been working on the introduction to it on the road, and I gave it to Paulino. I think he liked it, because he told me, “Look, you are the first woman to record on my record label. If it’s a hit, Discos Bego will hire you for three years. We will pay you $500 for your signature on the contract.”
I thought “$500?! That’s a lot of money!” I was so thankful and prayed for it to be successful.
They dance to this music all over the country, except Miami. They don’t really like the accordion there, just salsa or mariachi.
About a month after we recorded, there was a knock on my door and my compadre Paulino and his wife came over because we had invited them over to eat. They brought me the best news, it was such a surprise… It was a hit! This song…“Cariño Santo”…He wrote the contract and signed met to three years.
I was happy about it, but also sad. I was going to be away from my kids a lot. I’m a very caring mother and I love to hug my kids.
However, I was very happy working with my compadre Paulino, because he chose songs that fit my personality. It would only take 3 or 4 hours and the song would be ready.
On some songs, my husband would sing second voice, and the third would be Paulino Bernal.
Working with Paulino and his brothers, it was like family. There was no bad behavior, there was no drinking. We were like kin. Very at ease around each other. The same with Cornelio.
RAR: We have this album here, Dios Me Libre…
BL: Yes, that is an album I recorded with Los Fabulosos Cuatro con Cha Cha Jimenez.
RAR: Right! And what was it like to record with Cha Cha and Los Fabulosos?
BL: Oh, Cha Cha…so much love for that man. I have such great memories of recording with them.
RAR: Great musicians, right?
BL: Oh GREAT musicians…good friends and we spent a lot of time together.
Now, ask me how old I am.
BL: Guess. Not 150.
RAR: Hmm, I’m going to say 21.
BL: 21?! Have you been drinking? Ha!
RAR: Really, Señora, I don’t know.
BL: Well…I’m 77 and I’m going to be 78 on August 5.
RAR: Felicidades…You look great!
BL: I love to be happy. I love to laugh. I drink clown water. Ha! But seriously, I’m happy in my own way, I have my kids…and God gave me the opportunity, although I’m not an educated woman, they light up my life. Going months without seeing them was hard.
RAR: Right, and having to work on holidays like New Years, etc.
BL: At Christmas, if they offered me a million dollars, I wouldn’t go. I wanted to see the happiness on my kids’ faces as they open their gifts.
And Mother’s Day. That’s another very important day we spend together and I wouldn’t work. Those two days are unforgettable and sacred.
But thankfully, I had my mother, who helped me a lot. And she had another woman help her when she injured her leg.
After my husband died, I didn’t want to sing anymore. Every time I would see a mariachi and the man playing the guitarrón, I would think of my husband.
Such sad memories, right? But Cornelio told me…”Okay, you don’t want to sing. Where are you going to go? Where are you going to work?” I told him I was going to study to be a beautician. He said, “Study to be a beautician, yes, but you aren’t a beautician yet.” And that I shouldn’t end my career.
He would come in with my mother with a contract. I kept saying no. But then he came over to my mother’s house. And I kept refusing, saying I didn’t want to sing. But my mom said she already had my dress ready.
At that time, I had been a widow for barely five or six months. Cornelio told me that I had a lot of obligations to my family and to others. Also, it was my job. And I loved doing it.
RAR: So we have Cornelio and your mom (may they both rest in peace) to thank for you continuing to sing.
BL: Yes. And I would cry and Cornelio would tell me I needed to stop because my eyes were swollen and people couldn’t see my eyes. He even said that he had a beautician friend who could help me with my makeup.
But look, I would be alone in my room. Far away from my family, a recent widow, I was very sad. Very depressed. And around that time, they sent Linda Escobar with us…she recorded “Frijolitos Pintos.” And she would spend time with me in my room and to this day, we are still great friends.
And I was on the same day at this year’s Conjunto Festival in Rosedale Park in May. I’ve been singing with two ladies of my age. But I’m the baby. They even said, and “now we present La Baby.” Oh please! Shut your mouth…”La Baby…”
RAR: Hahaaa, okay, we’ll be right back with Beatriz Llamas, but first here is some more of her music on Rancho Alegre Radio.
RAR: Okay everyone, we’re back with Beatriz Llamas…
BL: Well, once my husband and I were going to go record with Paulino in McAllen. And I talked to my mom just as we were beginning to record. She said she needed one of us because she didn’t drive and one of the children had a fever. And I left to San Antonio to take him to the doctor.
I asked Paulino to wait to put the vocals until later because I wanted to be with my son since he was sick. He said he understood, he was a father.
And I got on the Greyhound to San Antonio. Then here comes Cornelio and Ramon with a song that they had written. And the song was called “Volo La Paloma.”
And they recorded it for an LP and gave it to me. And Cornelio tells me he wrote this song for me. It went “volo la paloma / cansada, cansada, de estarme esperando…” and my husband was not happy about this and got upset. I said I didn’t know what happened.
Well it turns out, when I went back to San Antonio to be with my son, Cornelio said…”the bird has flown.” And that’s where the song came from. And I still remember how jealous my husband was.
RAR: So what was it like working with Bernal and all those guys? How did they choose who got what songs?
BL: Well, we only sang songs that we had recorded. For publicity, especially, we would sing the same songs. Because people would ask for them.
RAR: Right, But at the beginning, how did they determine which artist got what song?
BL: We talked it out together. Each person had an opinion.
RAR: So Bego was like everyone working together?
BL: Yes. And for the good of the company. We wanted to sell records and make good music too.
RAR: So what other Bego artists did you know? You’ve mentioned Cornelio and Ramon…
BL: Paulino’s brothers…Cha Cha Jimenez…so much to remember.
RAR: Los Cuatitos Cantu?
BL: I knew them personally, but never recorded with them.
RAR: What about Los Grandes Dos?
BL: Los Grandes Dos?
RAR: Yeah, they were a group from that time, but it’s kind of a mystery who they were. There’s not a lot of information on the record.
BL: Well it’s easy to meet people. Ha haaa!
RAR: We have to thank LaLa Garza…she had your number and gave it to us. She’s an accordionist who lives in Austin and she knew that we were looking for you.
BL: And now we have this great interview! I’ve gotten phone calls from people in Michigan and they ask why I never go there. And I say no, I’d have a panic attack on the plane…
No, I’m semi-retired. I accept what happens with time. I’m realistic. I can get tired.
In May, I had four gigs with the ladies I sing with. We’re Las Tesoros de San Antonio.
RAR: Have you recorded or are you going to record with them?
BL: We would like to. We could re-record our hits. They’re not paying us anyway.
RAR: Ay, Señora…we’ll be right back with more from Beatriz Llamas on Rancho Alegre Radio.
RAR: And we’re back with Beatriz Llamas…
BL: I was always with my friends and Paulino. He would tell us, “tomorrow, we’re leaving at 7:00 in evening.” And I would have my clothes and my makeup and everything and leave the hotel by 6:30. I didn’t want them to blame me for being late. I was ready, because my mom taught me that that was part of respecting another person.
RAR: It’s very hard to find your recordings. How many albums did you record? I know you recorded for labels like Sombrero, Grande…Bego…
RAR: And how many did you record?
BL: Seven total.
RAR: Yes, they’re very hard to find.
BL: The other day, we were at a second hand store and I saw one of my albums. I asked how much it was, and they told me $15. I couldn’t believe it. They told me it was because there aren’t anymore, of course.
RAR: As a recording artist, does it surprise you that your albums sometimes sell for $50?
BL: That would be amazing! I’d sell them myself!
RAR: People don’t really know the value of them either. And sometimes people want to buy them again.
How does it make you feel that people are looking for your music?
BL: It makes me feel as proud as a peacock! I have a lot to be thankful for in this life.
Once in Chicago during the winter, our van rolled over with all the musicians inside. Of course I was with them.
Later, we were with Cornelio Reyna, and I couldn’t sleep. I was talking all night long. He told me to go to the truck with all instruments. I told him no, that I wasn’t tired.
We had a gig later that night at La Chamizal. Cornelio said he didn’t want me to lose my voice. I said I was fine, and in truth, I was hoarse from all the talking.
And then, I believe that my husband and God were looking after me, because the truck with all the instruments rolled over. All the Mariachi instruments came out all over. Could you imagine what would have happened to me?
We got back here and we had to tell our friends Mariachi Internacional de Manuel Vega what happened to all his instruments. But it was a miracle, for me. It was also a miracle when our van rolled over in Chicago. I have a lot to thank God for.
RAR: Another question. Things have changed quite a bit. But Latinos, Mexicanos, Tejanos, did you ever experience racism, here or in other states?
BL: Here, I’ll start at the beginning… here I couldn’t go to school because I was bullied by the pachucas. Me and my sister. We were scared and we asked our mom to send us to a different school. So then we went to Stephen F. Austin. And the same thing happened there.
Another time, we were going to Lubbock. There were so many people from Mexico who worked in the cotton fields. They asked my manager why no one ever came out there. And with me was a ballerina and her husband, Cantinflitas, the father of Cantinflas, and then a dancer, and me. Just the four of us.
Such suffering on that tour. We were refused at a hotel because we were Mexicans. So we slept in the park. Me and the other two ladies in a station wagon. The next day we went to a restaurant and were refused there because we were Mexicans. We would have said we were white, but we were too dark! We went to HEB and bought peanut butter and sodas. That was our food.
We were supposed to be there only one day, but were there for three.
RAR: We ask for stories like this so the youth can understand what it was like. How there were towns that had hotels and restaurants but wouldn’t accept Mexicans.
BL: At that time, there were also a lot of bands that were destroying their hotel rooms. That wasn’t us, though. We always behaved ourselves. There’s always two sides to every story.
RAR: I wanted to ask you about something else. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, how did promoters and club owners treat you? Were they respectful?
BL: Once, and I won’t say who, this didn’t happen in public. We went to play a dance in Dallas. The dressing room was close to the box office. And I had to walk out where everyone was to go to the stage. There was a drunk guy and he spanked my bottom. Ayyy! He shouldn’t have done it, because I turned around and slapped his face. Thank goodness he didn’t hit me back.
There are people who take advantage of situations but you have to be respectful. Because if you’re not respectful, no one is going to respect you.
It’s hard in this business, but you have to show that you have dignity. Thank goodness, there’s only two occasions that has happened to me.
RAR: Because men talk and…
BL: But I think that I have a face that I didn’t do anything. I think you show who you are. I’m playful, but up to a certain point. I do it because it’s how I am. I put a grain of sugar in my career, in conversation, etc. I don’t know if you’re laughing with me or about me.
RAR: With you, with you.
Okay, finishing the interview, first I want to thank you for all your talent, for what you did for female artists, your courage. And I want to give you the opportunity to say something to all your fans. You have a lot of them in Mexico, believe it or not…Monterrey…San Luis Potosi…Saludos a Manuel Gonzalez, for all our friends over there. Do you have a message to send to everyone listening?
BL: That I love them very much! I send them a kiss to each and every one of them. May God give them health and a lot of money that they can send to me too.
RAR: Friends, it’s been my pleasure and I’m very proud to have spoken with Beatriz Llamas…
BL: Thank you…what is the name of the station?
RAR: Rancho Alegre Radio
BL: Rancho Alegre, thank you for coming here to my home. My house is your house. It was a pleasure to have you here.
RAR: May I ask a favor?
RAR: If, over the next few weeks, you can write down your thoughts and memories you may have, we would love to come back and record them.
BL: Oh yes!
RAR: You just have so much knowledge of this famous record label, we would love to document them.
RAR: Okay amigos, thank you for joining us, we’re ending the show with more music from Beatriz Llamas.