RAMÍREZ, ARNALDO VILLARREAL
RAMÍREZ, ARNALDO VILLARREAL (1918–1993). Arnaldo Villarreal Ramírez, Tejano recording company owner, entrepreneur, and mayor of Mission, Texas, was born in Mission on April 9, 1918. Arnaldo Ramírez is best-known as “Mr. Falcon,” the founder of independent recording company Falcon Records in McAllen, Texas. Falcon Records, along with its rival Ideal Records, helped introduce conjunto and ranchera music to a wide audience throughout the American Southwest.
Arnaldo Ramírez grew up on the south side of Mission with his five brothers and sisters. Movies fascinated Ramírez when he was a child, but he also developed an interest in the possibilities of reaching large audiences through radio. He began his musical career during World War II as an advertising announcer and disc jockey on KGBS, now KGBT-AM in Harlingen, Texas. He was also attending Edinburg Junior College. Ramírez performed on the “border blaster” radio station XEAW across the border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico (see BORDER RADIO). It was on XEAW that Ramírez hosted a four-hour Spanish-language program, La Hora del Soldado (The Soldier’s Hour), intended to reach Spanish-speaking audiences working in wartime factories throughout the American Southwest. His playlist featured local performers from both north and south of the border who were often overlooked by larger radio stations. The program was very successful, so Ramírez began to focus his talents on promoting emerging artists. His first client was a Mexican singer named Luis “El Gallo Giro” Aguilar.
In 1948 Ramírez founded the recording company Discos Falcón in his own home. The company soon adopted the name Falcon Recording Studio, and Ramírez became known as “Mr. Falcon.” He chose the falcon as a symbol for his record company, because it represented speed and strength—a bird of action. In 1964 he created Fanfarria Falcón, a television variety show, to promote Falcon artists. Ramírez hosted the program, establishing his identity with a charismatic image complete with large eyeglasses. For almost twenty years, this program was broadcast in more than 200 cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Fanfarria Falcón offered Tejano artists an unprecedented degree of national exposure.
In the years following World War II, local and regional labels such as Ramírez’s Falcon Records and its main competitor, Armando Marroquín’s Ideal Records, gained importance in the development and dissemination of emerging Tejano artists and styles. In the 1940s large record companies, such as RCA Victor and Columbia Records, almost completely discontinued recording regional music in the Southwest and elsewhere. As a result, local recording studios, such as Falcon Records, took advantage of their familiarity with local musicians to record a variety of Tejano music and capitalize on the growing demand for Texas-Mexican music.
By 1980 Falcon Records included seven labels—Falcon, ARV International, Bego, CR, El Pato, Impacto, and Bronco. Over a span of almost forty years, these labels helped popularize a variety of Spanish-language musicians, including Chelo Silva, Mexican ranchera star Cornelio Reyna, norteño duet Los Alegres de Terán, Chicano/Tejano singer Carlos Guzmán, “La Onda Chicana” group Tortilla Factory, Mexican pop star Josue, rocker Freddy Fender, Narciso Reyes, and Bobby Pulido y los Clásicos. For many of these artists, Falcon Records served as a stepping-stone for entry into the larger music recording industry.
In 1944 Ramírez married Cristina Isabel Ramírez of Mission. Together, they had six children—Sandra, Ana Sylvia, Elizabeth, Patricia, Arnaldo “Nano” Jr., and Marco Antonio. Ramírez was elected mayor of his hometown, Mission, Texas, in 1973 and served until 1981. He was also a member of the Good Neighbor Commission, a group that worked to foster international goodwill across the Texas-Mexico border.
Ramírez suffered a series of minor strokes before dying of a massive stroke on May 11, 1993, in Mission. His son Nano kept the family music tradition alive in McAllen. From 1911 to 2006 Nano Ramírez owned La Villa Real, a concert venue that booked acts ranging from Tejano legends to country music superstars and attracted a range of important entertainers to the Rio Grande valley, including Carlos Santana, Enrique Iglesias, and Metallica. With a firm commitment to continuing his father’s life work, Nano also worked hard to attract and promote local and lesser-known artists.
In 2009 the Tejano music community recognized Arnaldo Ramírez’s contributions to Tejano music. Ramírez was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in San Benito, Texas. Family and friends remembered him as someone who lived by the philosophy “if you have music, you have everything.” His work promoting unknown Tejano artists and launching them to fame makes him a legend in the recording industry.
Falcon Record Collection A1986-053.XXXX, A1994-019.XXXX, South Texas Archives, James C. Jernigan Library, Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio, Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002). McAllen Monitor, July 13, 2006; November 10, 2007. Manuel Peña, Música Tejana (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999). Michael Rodríguez, “Hall of Fame Gets New Inductees,” San Benito News Online (http://www.sbnewspaper.com/inductees.htm), accessed October 23, 2010.
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