While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Ray Cano, Jr.
Tony De La Rosa
Photograph, Tony De La Rosa. Image courtesy of the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

DE LA ROSA, ANTONIO [TONY] (1931–2004). Antonio “Tony” De la Rosa, award-winning pioneer of conjunto music, was born in Sarita, Texas, on November 1, 1931, in a worker’s hacienda on the Kenedy Ranch. One of twelve children in a family of field laborers, De la Rosa began playing music as a child. At the age of six his mother taught him harmonica, and he later learned guitar. Soon afterward, he heard the accordion on the kitchen radio and decided he wanted to play that instrument. By the age of sixteen he had learned to play a two-row, button accordion, which he had ordered from a mail-order catalog. He played at family gatherings and other social events around the Kenedy Ranch and at a dance hall in nearby Riviera. Soon he performed publicly in nearby Kingsville.

De la Rosa was inspired by some of the earlier conjunto pioneers such as Narciso Martínez and Santiago Jiménez, but western swing and honky-tonk music also had an impact on his professional career. In fact De la Rosa was so fond of country music that by the time he was a teenager, he was playing with country bands in small clubs around Kingsville. In later years he would borrow from country singer Red Foley’s popular song “Alabama Jubilee” to compose “El Circo,” one of his best-known polkas.

Listen to this artist

In 1949 De la Rosa formed his own conjunto band which included himself on accordion and vocals, along with Abel Mendoza (vocals and bajo sexto), Adán De la Rosa (drums, vocals, and bajo sexto), Adan Pérez (bass, vocals), Amadeo Flores (vocals, bajo sexto), Tony Chávez (vocals), and Isidro López (vocals). De la Rosa first signed with Rio Records, founded by Hymie Wolf, but eventually moved to Ideal Records in 1950, which would become one of the most influential Tejano record labels of the twentieth century. Founded in 1946 by Armando Marroquín of Alice, Texas, Ideal Records helped catapult De la Rosa to regional fame.

Tony de la Rosa
Photograph, Tony de la Rosa and his conjunto band. Tony de la Rosa (third from left with accordion) was one of the first musicians to amplify his music and to add a drum set to conjunto music. Image courtesy of Masters of Traditional Arts. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

During his career, De la Rosa introduced several important innovations into conjunto music, including the use of amplified bajo sexto and bass and the practice of slowing polka tempos down to 110–115 beats per minute, as opposed to the faster traditional polka tempo of 130–145 beats per minute. He also is credited with introducing a new dance step known as el tacuachito (“the possum”), which was very popular during the 1950s. He played with a number of notable performers including Carmen y Laura. In the 1960s he added horns to his repertoire. Throughout his career De la Rosa made more than 100 records and had numerous hits, including “Atotonilco,” “La Grulla,” “Los Frijoles Bailan,” “El Sube y Baja,” “Carmela,” “Paloma Sin Nido,” and “Una Cualquiera.”

In 1982 De la Rosa was inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame, and in 1998 the National Endowment for the Arts presented him with a National Heritage Fellowship Award, considered to be one of the highest honors given to a cultural artist. De la Rosa also received recognition from other organizations, including induction into the Hispanic American Entertainment/Pura Vida Hall of Fame in San Antonio, Texas.

On June 2, 2004, Tony De la Rosa died at the age of seventy-two during heart surgery in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was survived by his wife, Lucia, three sons, a daughter, two stepsons, and numerous other family members. He was inducted posthumously into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in San Benito in 2006.


Antonio "Tony" De La Rosa (http://www.rootsweb.com/~txkenedy/antonio.htm), accessed June 6, 2007. Ramiro Burr, The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music (New York: Billboard, 1999). Raul Cano, “Tony de la Rosa: Presente!” People’s Weekly World Newspaper, July 1, 2004 (http://www.pww.org/article/articleprint/5462/), accessed June 6, 2007. Corpus Christi Caller-Times, October 8, 1998; June 4, 2004. Manuel H. Peña, Música Tejana: The Cultural Economy of Artistic Transformation (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ray Cano, Jr., "DE LA ROSA, ANTONIO [TONY] ," accessed June 07, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdema.

Uploaded on June 26, 2014. Modified on August 2, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...