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HERRERA, JUAN WILLIAM [JOHNNY]

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HERRERA, JUAN WILLIAM [JOHNNY] (1930–2003). Johnny Herrera was a renowned orquestas Tejanas music composer, singer, and songwriter born on February 9, 1930, in Mercedes, Texas, to Sebastian and Sarah C. (Salis) Herrera. He attended Mercedes High School, where he was the first male cheerleader. Herrera later attended Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, and North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas) in Denton where he completed a bachelor’s degree in harmony and composition and English in 1959. He was married to Sara Prado Herrera, who died in 1981. There is no record of Herrera having children or of his religious affiliation.

Herrera’s career in music spanned over five decades during which he recorded more than 400 songs, many of which were later recorded by top artists. His fondness for music began at an early age. Although raised in a Spanish-speaking household, Herrera’s initial musical interest was not in Spanish-language music. Instead, his biggest influence was Frank Sinatra and the big-band sound. Herrera stated that if the radio in his home was playing Mexican music, he would change the station. He recalled that a family trip to Monterrey, Mexico, changed his outlook and gave him an appreciation of Mexican culture and music. Herrera commented, “Maybe it was the charm and grace of the people, their way of expressing themselves in Spanish, the beauty of the countryside. I sensed the earth, the long history of the place and I became a Mexican by heart.”

When he was only fifteen, Herrera was playing regular shows at the Madrid Club on Leopard Street in Corpus Christi and other local venues. Around that same time, he traveled to Armando Marroquín’s Ideal Records in Alice, but the trip was almost for nothing until Carmen Marroquín expressed interest in his song “Un Mal Amor.”  A few years later, while Herrera was in the U. S. Army and stationed at Fort Hood, the 78 rpm of his song on Ideal profoundly influenced him to pursue music rather than a career in the military. In 1949 Herrera, at the age of nineteen, released his record “Veneno”/”De Rodillas Vendras” which received considerable attention in the Southwest and Rio Grande Valley. “De Rodillas Vendras” was recorded by Mexican artist Maria Victoria on RCA Victor. She was the first of many Mexican artists to record Herrera’s songs, which helped to disrupt barriers between Mexican and Texan music. That same year he recorded what is regarded as the first country song recorded by a Tejano artist, “Jealous Heart.” 

In 1951 Herrera started his own label, Gaviota Records, and formed his own band, Johnny Herrera y Su Orquesta. His first major success, “Por Ningun Motivo,”gained acceptance and was recorded by several popular musicians, including Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. He made the addition of two saxophones and an accordion to the orquesta to differentiate his music from music from Mexico. He further distinguished his music by adding the category “Tejano,” preferring to identify his style of music as blues Tejano or bolero Tejano. Herrera and his band toured the Southwest, but an auto accident near Roswell, New Mexico, along with Herrera becoming tired of the road, ended the touring. After Herrera received his college education, he taught grade school for a short time before opening the House of Music, a record store specializing in Spanish-language music, in 1961. Located in Corpus Christi on South Port and Buford Avenue, the House of Music became a noted hangout for international artists as well as aspiring local performers such as Freddy Martinez and Abraham Quintanilla, a singer for the original Los Dinos and father of Selena.

Herrera’s musical impact was significant and was performed by such singing greats as Lucha Villa, Chelo Silva, and Mercedes Castro. His songs became hits in Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, South America, and Spain. His greatest accomplishment came when his song “Si Quieres Verme Llorar” was popularized by Tejano music singer Lisa Lopez in 1981. The hit reached Number 1 on music charts in Mexico and Spain and was played heavily in the southwestern U.S. For his many musical accomplishments, Herrera was awarded “Songwriter of the Year” and “Song of the Year” at the 1982 Tejano Music Awards and was inducted into the Tejano Hall of Fame in 1983. During the 1990s, Eddie Gonzalez recorded his rendition of “Botonicito de Carino,” and famed artist Selena Quintanilla recorded many of Herrera’s songs including “La Tracalera.” 

Herrera struggled with diabetes and other physical problems but continued to write music until his death. He passed away at the age of seventy-three on September 10, 2003, at Doctors Regional Medical Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, due to cancer.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Corpus Christi Caller-Times, June 8, 1998; February 09, 2001; September 11, 2013. Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., Tejano Proud: Tex-Mex Music in the Twentieth Century (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002). 

Ethan Rice

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

Handbook of Texas Online, Ethan Rice, "Herrera, Juan William [Johnny]," accessed October 22, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fheac.

Uploaded on March 22, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.