Rosita Fernandez

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Dubbed "San Antonio's First Lady of Song" by Lady Bird Johnson, Rosita Fernandez was a pioneering force in the development of the Texas border music later dubbed tejano. In addition to her prodigious…
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Dubbed "San Antonio's First Lady of Song" by Lady Bird Johnson, Rosita Fernandez was a pioneering force in the development of the Texas border music later dubbed tejano. In addition to her prodigious recording schedule, she also enjoyed a feature film career, and was one of the first Latin American performers to regularly appear on national television. One of 16 children, Fernandez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, on April 12, 1918. After the family relocated across the border to San Antonio six years later, she began her professional singing career at the age of nine, joining her uncles' vaudeville act Trio San Miguel and touring the South Texas tent show circuit. At 14, Fernandez was a featured performer on WOAI Radio's Gebhardt Chili Show, additionally cutting hundreds of commercial jingles for the station. She went on to record hundreds of songs for labels including RCA, Decca, and Brunswick, enjoying her biggest hits with the songs "Maria Bonita" and "Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado." Despite the widespread popularity of ranchera music, which appealed to working-class audiences, Fernandez specialized in canciones románticas and boleros, favoring lush orchestral arrangements and urbane rhythms. She was nevertheless an enormous popular favorite within the Latino community, where her fame proved so enduring that she was known simply as "Rosita." When WOAI launched its television broadcasting division in 1949, Fernandez was the first live performer to appear on air, and in 1960 she made her motion picture debut opposite John Wayne in The Alamo. Despite headlining the 1963 Disney production Sancho, the Homing Steer, she resisted overtures to relocate to Hollywood in favor of remaining in San Antonio, where she performed for Pope John Paul II, Prince Charles of Wales, and countless other dignitaries. In 1968, Fernandez was also named an international ambassador for HemisFair, the San Antonio-based World's Fair celebration held that year, and recorded its theme song, "San Antonio: Ciudad de Encantos." Despite formally retiring in 1982, she continued performing for local charity benefits, and in 1987 earned induction into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame. Weeks after suffering a minor heart attack, Fernandez died at a San Antonio hospice on May 2, 2006; she was 88.