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Incredible as it may seem, Freddy Fender is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
On a mission to change that is Veronique Medrano, a Tejano/country singer-songwriter from Brownsville who is redoubling her efforts to get Fender — born Baldemar Huerta in San Benito in 1937 — inducted into the CMHF.
She launched the project a year ago after earning a master’s degree in information science with a focus on archiving and preservation from the University of North Texas, though Medrano said she’s wanted to do something since learning several years ago or so that the Grammy-winning Fender was never inducted.
Last year, she published an article in the online magazine Wide Open Country titled “Freddy Fender Belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame” and has even traveled to Nashville to lobby Country Music Association executives on behalf of Fender, who died in 2006 and is buried in San Benito.
Medrano also started a change.org petition that has collected more than 6,700 signatures to date.
She embarked on this project two years before the 50th anniversary of the release of the 1974 album that made Fender a household name: “Before the Last Teardrop Falls,” produced by Huey P. Meaux, nicknamed the “Crazy Cajun.”
The song had been around for years and was recorded by other artists without garnering much attention, though Fender’s English-Spanish version shot to the top of the country charts and crossed over into pop radio, making him a star virtually overnight.
“When it was released to the public it was released as a Tejano record by the label,” Medrano said. “And it took on a life of its own. It was a bilingual record that hit the country market and was widely accepted.”
She said the CMA has had a half century to recognize Fender’s impact and body of work and that he meets all the organization’s criteria. She argues that induction is long overdue.
Ironically, Fender is in the CMHF museum but not the CMHF itself, a separate entity.
“When you look at this (display) called ‘Country Goes Pop,’ it talks about artists who broke ground and kind of were crossovers of their time,” Medrano said. “Of the four people in there, Freddy Fender is the only one that does not have a plaque in the Hall of Fame.”
In 2020, Billboard magazine published an article on 30 iconic artists who are not in the CMHF even if many people assume they are. The story led with Tanya Tucker, the Judds and Freddy Fender.
“The Judds got it in 2022,” Medrano said. “Tanya Tucker got it this year. So my hope is that in 2024 or 2025 we finally close that gap.”
Fender influenced countless artists when he was performing and continues to do so 17 years after his death. He was much more than a one- or two-hit wonder as some people might claim, she said.
“He didn’t just get hits off his debut album in country,” Medrano said. “There was a lot more, you know, the Texas Tornados, the Super Seven. … We have to really acknowledge that his impact in country made it where other groups of Hispanics and Mexicans felt comfortable enough to create in the space. That’s just a basic fact.”
According to her article, Fender was born to a family of Mexican-American migrant workers and began entering singing competitions as a child. He joined the Marines in 1953 at the age 16, and during his time off practiced guitar and learned the rock’n’roll songs of Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and others.
In 1957, after his discharge, Fender landed a recording contract assumed the moniker “El Bebop Kid,” hitting number one on the Latin American charts with a Spanish version of “Don’t Be Cruel” and making him the first Hispanic rocker for Latin America.
In 1959, he legally changed his name to “Freddy Fender.” His early career ended abruptly when he was arrested for marijuana possession in Baton Rouge, La., receiving a five-year sentence that was commuted after three and half years by Gov. Jimmie Davis (inducted into the CMHF in 1972), who allowed Fender to record an album while serving time.
In 1960, before landing in prison, Fender wrote a song titled “Lonely Days and Lonely Nights” while living in the backroom of a Harlingen bar. When he returned to music in 1971 it became “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” another hit track on “Before the Last Teardrop Falls.”
From 1975 to 1983, Fender released 15 more albums with at least 21 songs charting, many of them bilingual. His songs have been covered by Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, LeAnn Rimes and other big names in country and pop.
If Medrano succeeds in her quest, Fender will be the first Hispanic inducted into the CMHF — something she’s committed to seeing through. In this, she has the support of Fender’s widow, Vangie, and daughter Marla.
“We speak regularly,” Medrano said. “The fact that even they are a part of this journey means a lot. Everybody knows that he deserves this.”
Members of the public can help by signing the change.org petition, “Induct Mexican-American Freddy Fender into the Country Music Hall of Fame.” Just type “Freddy Fender” into the change.org website’s search box. Medrano encouraged petition signers to also share their personal stories of Fender.
“It matters to have signatures, but if people feel moved enough to talk about their experience with Freddy and why he’s important to them, it really is about people being vocal in their support in such a way that they share as well,” she said.
Given the magnitude of his talent, uniqueness, and lasting legacy and impact, Fender is obviously “the one” to knock down the barriers at CMHF, Medrano said.
“Freddy Fender to me is the door that needs to be opened so that we can then honor people like the Mavericks, like Rick Trevino, like Linda Ronstadt,” she said. “We have to have an opening and then we can create a big change. … This is to start the conversation on preservation in regard to our Hispanic artists who have made big strides in another kind of roots music. We are not just Mexican regional. We are not just Hispanic sounds. There is more to us. We are complex.”