Friday, March 22, 2013

Recognizing Narciso Delgado

In the world of regional music, even the most accomplished musicians fade away through time. One such example is Narciso Delgado. A McAllen resident from 1935 until his death in 1977, Delgado was a musical prodigy. Born in 1903 in Camargo, Mexico, it didn't take long for people around him to see his full potential. When he was a teenager, the multi-instrumentalist was already performing with bands in the Corpus Christi area. He would eventually go on to play all over the Valley and form his own orchestra. But his lasting legacy among those that knew him were his compositions. Some of his pieces were performed by legends like Lydia Mendoza and Rafael Mendez.

Unfortunately, not too many people know of Narciso Delgado's work. One person that is trying to change that is Carlos R. Cantu, a native of McAllen, TX. Now 74 years old and retired from 31 years in education, Cantu remembers when he was first exposed to Delgado's music.

"When I was a little boy we used to go the amateur shows at (Cine El) Rey," said Carlos R. Cantu. "The person that accompanied (the performers on the piano) was Narciso. When there was a break, he would start playing some of his songs. I asked my mother, 'What is that beautiful melody he is playing?' She said, 'This is Nochecita, la cancion que le robarron (the song they stole from him).' As a kid, 8 or 9 years old, I couldn't understand what that meant. How could they steal your song?"

Cantu explains that "Nochecita", a song that Delgado and Fred Fernandez (a frequent collaborator) created, was stolen by someone in Mexico. At the Strachwitz Frontera Archive, they have several different releases and versions of that piece. The two composers most often credited with that song in that archive are Narciso Delgado and Victor Huesca. Cantu has in his possession an old copy of a book that contains sheet music for "Nochecita" that credits Delgado with the song. He feels that book gives credence to the idea that it is Delgado's composition.

"Later on, I developed a friendship with Narciso back in the late 50's, before I went into the Armed Forces. We started talking and by that time, the song had bounced back again in popularity. I would question him about what he was doing and he said, 'I am still trying to get credit'. At that time, he was still hoping to get some kind of compensation or royalties."

Cantu would go on with his life but he would never forget about Delgado. In his mind, he always wondered what he could do to bring attention to someone he deeply admires. A few years ago, he would meet the perfect person to help bring recognition to Delgado's oeuvre.

"It just so happened that I went to a concert that Imelda (Delgado's daughter) had here in McAllen," Cantu said. "She had two other people with her, it was a trio of classical music."

Imelda Delgado first performed in McAllen as a young girl but now resides in Corpus Christi. After the concert, Cantu went up to Imelda and introduced himself. He mentioned how he's done research on her father and how he would like to get the local community to recognize him. They have stayed in contact since then, working together to preserve the memory of Narciso Delgado. Imelda is currently searching for musicians to perform her father's compositions. While Cantu is set on producing a mural in Delgado's honor in McAllen.

"I think by the end of the year, we should have something done," Cantu said.

The most important aspect of this for Cantu is to bring recognition to the composers, musicians, and promoters that shaped this unique era of music. If possible, he would like to get other musicians of the period involved in this project like Delia Gutierrez Pineda, Juanita Garcia, and Rene Sandoval. It's been a labor of love for Cantu and he hopes that future generations will have an understanding of these legendary local figures.

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