A Journey to Advocate for Freddy Fender’s Country Music Legacy

Freddy Fender | Courtesy photos

The story of Freddy Fender starts in the bars & cantinas of Deep South Texas. How much further south can you go in Texas? Well this story takes place in a small cluster of towns in Texas neighboring the U.S.-Mexican border known as the Rio Grande Valley. It may be a river delta, but here, in the town of San Benito, Texas, is where we find Baldemar Huerta, the man who would later be known as Freddy Fender.

Huerta came from a migrant family household, and as a child Huerta would work alongside his family, who embarked on this grueling work across the United States. Between the ages of 8-10, Huerta’s interest in music grew and afforded him the opportunity to compete in singing competitions and play in bars and cantinas at the different cities they visited earning them extra money. This was Freddy’s foundation, that would lead him out of farming and into music learning the Rock & Roll genre and eventually honing his skills further before releasing his crossover hit record “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, that changed the landscape of Country Music for Latinos and Mexicans.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the iconic crossover album, and in the last two years leading up to this anniversary, we’ve started actively communicating with the Country music industry, CMA’s and others about this campaign. This work has led us to have direct conversations with preservation institutions and enhanced the understanding of the politics and meetings behind the smoke and mirrors of mystery that surrounds nominating an artist, and how the process works. Many times the biggest questions asked in regards to this campaign are the following:

  • How long does it take for someone to receive an induction into the hall of fame?
  • Why does Freddy Fender deserve to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame?
  • Does a Petition even do anything?

Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez | Courtesy photo

Why does Freddy Fender deserve to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame?

That question is simply stating facts and laying out the timeline of Freddy’s recorded impact in Country music. It is the one question that decision makers want answered. It doesn’t start with a drawn out history of his music upbringing it starts at the impact point, which was the release of the album in 1974 “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” it continues on with the hits in the genre and making sure to get the scope of 20 Hits in the space and not the three that might come passively from general knowledge. Understanding Freddy Fender, the artist, and aligning these things with the co-sign of his peers “covering” his songs, which in the Country music industry is no small passing thing to do. His features on trusted Country programs, his Grammy awards, and every other bit of research that paint the picture with hard stats that corroborate his impact that was felt by everyone. It is featured in museums, in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and so it stands to reason that it is time for the Country Music Hall of Fame to honor the full spectrum of his impact of Mexican sounds in country music. The work to make this full spectrum digestible is where I face my great challenge and champion a person who cannot do it for themself that is from the border town region I call home

Courtesy photo

Does a petition even do anything?

Yes they do. Here is an overview of the timeline of events:

  • 1,000 signatures: The campaign started receiving local coverage.
  • 5,000 signatures: Received support from the Freddy Fender’s Estate and Fender was honored by the State with a Texas Historical Commission Marker.
  • 10,000 signatures: Meetings with State officials on how they could help boost the Campaign as well as submitting Freddy Fender for induction into the Library of Congress Music Archive.

**Currently the Petition is at 13,000 and has hit National Country Radio coverage

When I first started this, it was on my own and with no communication from preservation organizations on how to move forward on a process that had no steps and no explanations. The VOLUME of support was seen and suddenly conversations started happening that weren’t happening before. On top of that this drive of voices collectively praising Freddy Fender reached the executives of his estate: Vangie Huerta and Marla Huerta. These two women have provided me knowledge and clarity for the work ahead, which is to make good on Fender’s one big dream before his passing. This dream he made known in an interview with the Associated Press in 2004, “Hopefully, I’ll be the first Mexican-American going into Hillbilly Heaven.” This was in regards to what it would mean to have his legacy in country music honored with an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In the twenty years since this interview, no Mexican-American or Latino(e) has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Freddy Fender and Paul Rodriguez | Courtesy photo

How long does it take for someone to receive an induction into the Hall of Fame? In Saving Country Music’s article about this campaign, they stated the following about the “average” length of time: 

“Considering that Freddy Fender would be going in via the Veteran’s Era category, and with the stacked list of contenders ahead of him based on a host of factors including the rumors of the names on the final ballots over the last five years, those looking to induct Fender in the Country Music Hall of Fame should realistically consider it to be at least five years out, and only then be considered as a possibility only with an constant and dedicated campaign.”

This along with a 2020 article from Billboard discussing the artists who many assume are inducted but are not, Fender’s name in every discussion like this comes up again and again.

I want to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that I started this journey AFTER graduating with my Master’s degree at UNT in 2022. I state this because when I wanted to start this in 2016, with only a Bachelor’s degree and in the middle of trying to launch another record, it became apparent to me I did not have the time or the mental capacity for the commitment to this undertaking. I took those years to do research and arm myself with the knowledge of how archiving and preservation works in institutions like these that have ultimately been the foundation for our great impact on this endeavor. I’m here for the long haul and so should you be. It can take between 5-10 years.Being consistent and vocal these past two years has led to a lot of amazing things in store for Freddy Fender in the coming year. This doesn’t change the bigger goal, which is ultimately his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Veronique Medrano | Courtesy photo

Fender’s many accomplishments and obvious musical footprint in country music, remains an inspiration to many Mexicanos and Latinos in the industry attempting to make their own way in the space authentically. Freddy Fender did something that crossed beyond borders and beyond language and struck the core to what makes Country music so great. If you haven’t signed the petition please do so at the following link: 

Along with that you can read the following articles about Freddy Fender and the campaign itself to brush up on the full breadth of his history:

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