SAN BENITO, Texas – Freddy Fender, the “Bebop Kid” of the Texas-Mexico border who later turned his twangy tenor into the smash country ballad “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” died Saturday. He was 69.
Fender, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2006, died at noon at his Corpus Christi home with his family at his bedside, said Ron Rogers, a family spokesman.
Born Baldemar Huerta, Fender was proud of his Mexican-American heritage and frequently sung verses or whole songs in Spanish. “Teardrop” had a verse in Spanish.
He won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album in 2002 for “La Musica de Baldemar Huerta.” He also shared in two Grammys: one with the Texas Tornados for best Mexican-American performance in 1990 for “Soy de San Luis,” and one with Los Super Seven in the same category in 1998 for “Los Super Seven.”
He said in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press that one thing would make his musical career complete: induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Fender was born in 1937 in San Benito, the South Texas border town credited with spawning the Mexican-polka sound of conjunto. The son of migrant workers who did his own share of picking crops, he also was exposed to the blues, sung by blacks alongside the Mexicans in the fields.
His career took off in the late ‘50s, when he returned from serving in the Marines and recorded Spanish-language versions of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell.” The recordings were hits in Mexico and South America.
He signed with Imperial Records in 1959, renaming himself “Fender” after the brand of his electric guitar, and “Freddy” because it sounded good with Fender.