Science + Technology

Song From Frontera Collection at UCLA Added to National Recording Registry

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An historical corrido (ballad) from the FronteraCollection at UCLA is now part of the Library of Congress' National RecordingRegistry, which each year recognizes recordings that best reflect the Americanexperience.

"Gregorio Cortez" by Trovadores Regionales is the first corrido ever to be added to theregistry. Corridos are narrative ballads on topics of theday that continue to be popular among Latinos.

"Corridosare part of a most significant historic and artistic heritage," said GuillermoHernandez, former director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, thecollection's project director and a renowned expert on corridos. "Corridos represent a rich poetic andmusical tradition that preserves the voice of common people."

Congress created the registryto celebrate the richness and variety of the nation's audio legacy and tounderscore the long-term preservation of sound recordings so that they may beappreciated and studied by generations to come. The first selections wereannounced in 2003.

"Gregorio Cortez," a corrido recorded in 1929 about aMexican American ranch hand who killed a Texas sheriff in self-defense andeluded authorities for 11 days in 1901, was one of 50 selections added to theregistry. The song, which is based on real-life events, has been recorded manytimes since the 1920s and is considered an icon within the field of Chicanostudies.

Americo Paredes wrote "With His Pistolin His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero," based on the legend of the corrido. Paredes' writings about the folklore and ballads of Mexicoand Mexican America are a staple in any Chicano studies class. In 1982, actorEdward James Olmos starred in a film version of thestory, "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez." Cortez's story is viewed as an exampleof cross‑cultural misunderstanding and blind oppression.

According to the corrido and Paredes' book, Cortezbecame a folk hero in Mexican American communities, particularly along theTexas-Mexico border. A sheriff shot Cortez's brother during an inquiry over thesale of a horse. The sheriff then turned the gun on Cortez, who shot thesheriff, killing him. Cortez fled and triggered one of the biggest manhunts inTexas history.

The earliest version of the corrido of "Gregorio Cortez" isin the Arhoolie Foundation's StrachwitzFrontera Collection, which UCLA's Chicano StudiesResearch Center and UCLA Music Library started to digitize in 2001. The Frontera Collection is the largest repository of Mexicanand Mexican American music in existence. It contains music from 1905 to 1990.Los Tigres Del Norte, theaward-winning Mexican norteo band, donated $500,000to digitize and provide public access to the FronteraCollection.

By gathering these rare and very fragile recordingstogether in an easily accessible form, the archive will enable wide-rangingresearch in Mexican and Mexican American culture. The first digitization phaseof the vast collection is nearly complete. Approximately 10,000 78 rpmphonograph recordings have been digitized. The public now has access to the first50 seconds of about 20,000 songs via http://digital.library.ucla.edu/frontera/.UCLA computer users can listen to the entire songs.

The diverse Frontera Collectionincludes the earliest recordings of corridos and manyother popular genres. These recordings are a foundation for Latino music today,since the singers and musicians who made these records helped popularize andpropagate a number of traditions including Mexican regional, Tejano, Chicano and Mexican American music. Mexicanregional music continues to be the most popular among Latinos and stillfeatures many corridos.

In addition, the collection includes many spokenperformances, such as patriotic speeches and vernacular comedy skits. Many ofthe recordings are one-of-a-kind because the companies that recorded them nolonger exist, or if they do still exist, have lost or melted their metalmasters.

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