Artist Details


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Lorenzo Barcelata

One of the most acclaimed composers from the state of Veracruz, Mexico, Lorenzo Barcelata was born July 24, 1898 in Tlaliscoya, where he lived until he was 11. As a child, he displayed a talent for playing guitar, but that wasn’t unusual in his musically-oriented family. Lorenzo was 14 when he wrote his first song, “Arroyito.”

He moved to Tampico and formed a quartet, Cuarteto Tamaulipeco, with composer Ernesto Cortázar. They were popular throughout Veracruz and Yucatan, and their fame spread internationally when the government of Mexico sent them on a tour of Cuba. While there, the quartet was signed to a 52-week tour of the United States. When two members of the quartet were fatally injured in an automobile accident in New Jersey, Barcelata returned to Mexico. Along with Cortázar, he was named director of XEFO, the official radio station of the PRI, the national political party. Barcelata reformed the quartet with new members and this new incarnation reached new levels of fame.

Barcelata became involved with the film industry in Mexico in 1932. He composed music for several films, starting with “Una Vida Por Otra” in 1932. He also wrote music for “Mano a Mano” (1932), “Almas Encontradas” (1934), “María Elena” (1936), and “Cielito Lindo” (1936). In 1936, he became even more popular when he played the role of Martin in the film “Allá en el Rancho Grande.” He had another role in “Bajo el Cielo de México” (1937). He continued to score films for the rest of his life, with credits that include “La Zandunga” (1938), “La Adelita” (1938), “Down Mexico Way” (1941), and “Amanecer Ranchero” (1942).

Barcelata’s most famous song is “María Elena,” originally written for the First Lady of Mexico, the wife of President Portes Gil. The music was first heard in the U.S. as a background theme in the 1935 film “Bordertown,” starring Paul Muni and Bette Davis, a year before the release of the Mexican film “María Elena.” While Barceleta wrote the song in Spanish, it was translated into English and first released in the U.S. by Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra on the OKeh label in 1941. That was followed by a version recorded by Jimmy Dorsey with a vocal by Bob Eberly on Decca. Dorsey’s single topped the Billboard chart the week of June 14, 1941, and occupied pole position for two non-consecutive weeks. A competing version by Wayne King was No. 2 the week of June 14, runner-up only to the Dorsey version. A vocal version by Tony Pastor also reached the top 10, peaking at No. 9 the week of June 28. Since then, “María Elena” has been recorded in many different languages. An instrumental version by two Brazilian brothers known as Los Indios Tabajaras was released on the RCA Victor label and peaked at No. 6 in 1963.

The popularity of “María Elena” in the U.S. led to another tour, and Barcelata remained in the country for some time, returning home to Mexico in 1943. He signed a contract for a series of programs on radio, but before the show could debut, the celebrated composer died on July 13, 1943. He left behind a catalog of 214 songs published by peermusic. In addition to “María Elena,” his most famous songs include “El Cascabel,” “Por Ti Aprendi a Querer,” “El Siquisiri,” and “El Toro Coquito.”