Freddy Fender, one of the longest running and successful Hispanic artists in America, died Oct. 14 at his house in Corpus Christi, Texas. The cause was lung cancer. He was 69.
More than anything, Fender was a singer and entertainer. In recent years, Fender could be found playing with all-star groups like the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven, but continued playing as a solo act as well. He also was active in film, playing several roles including the mayor in Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War.
The son of migrant workers, Fender grew up in San Benito, Texas, starting to play guitar at a young age. He dropped out of school at 16 to join the Marines for three years. He then released his first record, under his given named of Baldemar Huerta in 1958. He adopted the name Freddy Fender in 1959, naming himself after his preferred brand of guitar. Unfortunately his music career was sidetracked when he was arrested for marijuana possession in 1960. After five years in the notorious Angola State Prison, Fender moved to New Orleans but didn't find any real success. After a few years, he returned to San Benidito and supported himself as a car mechanic.
Fender's fortunes changed at the beginning of 1975 with the "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," which hit the top of both the country and pop charts, making Fender became an overnight star. For the follow-up, he re-recorded his early single, "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights," and got his second straight number one country hit. He had released yet another chart-topper in "Secret Love," and also issued two LPs, Since I Met You Baby and a self-titled effort before the end of the year. He recorded his final studio album in 2001, calling it La Mœsica de Baldemar Huerta. This album won him his third Grammy.
Fender had battled Hepatitus C in recent years and underwent a kidney transplant in 2002 and had a liver transplant in 2004. Nonetheless, his health continued to decline before he eventually succumbed to lung cancer.