While our physical offices are closed until at least April 13 due Austin's COVID-19 "shelter-in-place" 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 »


Teresa Palomo Acosta

Isidro (El Indio) Lopez
Bandleader and saxophonist Isidro López (“El Indio”), an acknowledged orquesta Tejana leader, added elements of the Mexican mariachi tradition along with jazz, Cuban boleros, and rock-and-roll to pioneer a “Tex-Mex” style that would evolve into contemporary Tejano music. Photograph by Clayton T. Shorkey, Texas Music Museum

LÓPEZ, ISIDRO [EL INDIO] (1933–2004). Isidro “El Indio” López, considered the major innovator of the contemporary orquesta Tejana tradition (Tejano orchestra), was born in Bishop, Texas, on May 15, 1933, to a working class family. He grew up in a two-room house, picked cotton as a youngster, graduated from high school, and studied for one year at Texas A&I in Kingsville (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville). The appellation “El Indio,” which became a standard way of referring to him, was derived from the Mescalero Apache background of one of his parents.

López learned to play guitar from an uncle when he was twelve years old, and he took up the alto saxophone and clarinet in high school. He also received instruction from orquesta musicians such as Tony Ornelas and Mike Cuesta who lived in nearby Corpus Christi, Texas. From his earliest days as a musician, López valued both the conjunto and the orquesta traditions, considering them equally important. Indeed, as a young man he played with the “father” of conjunto music, Narciso Martínez, and also gained professional experience playing with the orquestas of Eugenio Gutiérrez, Juan Colorado, and Balde González.

In about 1955 Isidro López started his own orquesta Tejana. With his saxophone-playing ability and singing talent, he soon established himself as a highly-regarded member of the Tejano music industry. As a recording artist for Ideal Records, López recorded more than sixty singles and eight albums. The unique musical style he created included the ranchero sound of the Mexican mariachi tradition blended with the orquesta tradition established by Beto Villa. López labeled this range of styles “Texachi,” which combined the words “Texas” with “mariachi.” Early on López recorded such popular songs as “Emoción pasajera” and “Ando sufriendo y penando.” He also recorded “Mala cara,” which was a combination of ranchero-rock music, adding to his reputation as an innovative musician. By 1960 he was considered the top bandleader of his era. In the 1960s López’s orquesta grew to fifteen members.

Listen to this artist

For approximately twenty years, Isidro López and his orquesta maintained a busy recording and performing schedule. The group’s addition of jazz and Cuban boleros and López’s great singing helped ensure that his orquesta ushered in contemporary Tejano music, commonly referred to after 1960 as the “Tex-Mex” sound. His addition of accordions, rock-and-roll, polkas, and mariachi to his orquesta, along with his commitment to the ranchero sound, clearly made him a pioneer of the Tex-Mex musical tradition.

From the 1950s through the mid-1960s López’s prominence as a great orquesta Tejana leader and singer was unquestioned, and he remained very popular with audiences. His status diminished somewhat with the rise of Little Joe (Hernández) and the Latinaires and Sunny (Ozuna) and the Sunliners, two of the top Tex-Mex tradition musicians. Nevertheless, López’s place as a musical innovator had already been established. In later years, he received accolades for his contributions to the state’s musical heritage. He was an inductee into the Tejano Music Awards Hall of Fame in 1983 and into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2002 Texas Governor Rick Perry honored him with the Tejano Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.

Isidro “El Indio” López died on August 16, 2004. His passing was mourned by many colleagues and fans with more than 500 attending his funeral service at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Corpus Christi. He was buried at Seaside Memorial Park, near Corpus Christi Bay. López is honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame.


Manuel Peña, The Mexican American Orquesta, Music, Culture, and the Dialectic of Conflict (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999). San Antonio Express-News, August 21, 2004. Juan Tejeda and Avelardo Valdez, eds., ¡Puro Conjunto! An Album in Words and Pictures (Austin: Center for Mexican American Studies, University of Texas at Austin; San Antonio: Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 2001). 

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, Teresa Palomo Acosta, "LÓPEZ, ISIDRO [EL INDIO]," accessed April 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/flo80.

Uploaded on June 1, 2015. Modified on October 25, 2015. 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...