Ramón Hernández: Premier Tejano and Latino Musicologist, Author, and Photographer
In 2018, the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University acquired San Antonio native Ramón Hernández’s vast archives and music memorabilia documenting Tejano music. The collection includes historic photographs, vintage concert posters, rare recordings, performance clothing, artifacts, and instruments of legendary performers such as Freddy Fender, Selena, “Little Joe” Hernández, and Lydia Mendoza.
Ramón Hernández’s passion for Tejano music dates back to the 1950s when as a teenager he listened to music known in San Antonio as “Westside Soul.” The most notable live performers of this genre in Latino dance halls at the time were Sunny and the Sunglows, the Royal Jesters, and the Sir Douglas Quintet. A love for music led Hernandez to form a band and religiously attend all the rock concerts at the San Antonio City Auditorium. The more memorable performances he recalled at the Auditorium included those of James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino. His total absorption of music led to his collection of the recordings of his favorite artists, but more importantly, he amassed an amazing collection of the music of Mexican, Latin American, and
Many San Antonio Latino teenagers joined the military when they finished high school, and Hernandez was no different. He signed up with the Navy when he determined that good jobs would be scarce in San Antonio for young men and women without technical skills. The city’s better-paying jobs such as teaching, nursing, and law required a college degree. For many Black and Brown teens, the cost of college and the lack of information about how to apply to college made it unlikely for them to attend.
Hernandez’s life in the Navy began at the San Diego Naval Base after his high school graduation in 1960. After serving twenty-three years as a U.S. Navy communication specialist, he retired as a Chief Petty Officer in May of 1983. His love of music led him to different Naval music stations where he became a popular AFRTS base disc jockey. Hernández also bought a camera and gained proficiency as a photographer.
When the Navy stationed him in Washington, D.C., he worked part-time in the office of Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and covered the 1970 Watergate Hearings in his free time for a major Guam Daily Post, a major Guam newspaper. Upon an Honorable Discharge from the Navy, Hernández wrote a music column for the San Antonio Express-News and worked as a publicist for
several Tejano music stars.
Since the mid-1980s, Hernández has been the premier collector of Tejano recordings, instruments, costumes event posters, and videos. Hernández’s journey to become a recognized musicologist, historian of Latin American music, and superb interpreter of Latino music is an impressive Latino success story.
Teodoro and Susanna Hernández from the San Antonio Westside and their daughter Simona provided a loving family setting and raised Ramón Hernández when his unmarried seventeen-year-old biological mother gave him up. Teodoro and Susanna were in their early eighties when they adopted the newly-born infant. Teodoro and Susanna raised young Ramón and served as his first step-parents. Their daughter Simona assumed the role of second stepmother with her husband Dario Obregon as stepfather when Teodoro and Susanna died.
I first met Ramón Hernández when I was about twelve years old and briefly joined his postage stamp collection club. He was four years older than I was and he became the leader of our two-person club. I did not last long as a stamp collector because my dad needed me to help him in our family-owned grocery store. I lost track of Hernandez and only recently learned that four years after our stamp-collecting meeting he had graduated from Brackenridge High School and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Hernández’s first stepfather, Don Teodoro loved Mexican cinema and music and went almost daily to one of his five favorite Westside Spanish-language theaters, Alameda, Nacional, and Zaragoza, at the edge of downtown, and the Guadalupe and Teatro Progreso across from each other on Guadalupe Street. Young Hernández joined him as often as possible in the post-war years 1945-1950. His second stepfather Dario Obregon also loved music and took young Ramón to the Alameda Theater to hear the great Mexican bands and singers. Music became part of Hernández’s DNA.
Soon after retiring from Navy life, Hernández returned to San Antonio and met the popular Tejana singer, Patsy Torres. Torres did not have a publicist or photographer, and she asked Hernández to help her promote her shows. Two years later Hernández met Selena, the sixteen-year-old singing star of Los Dinos from Corpus Christi. Selena’s dad Abraham Quintanilla handled all her bookings and Al Rendón of San Antonio became Selena’s principal photographer.
From the late 1980s to recent times, Hernández traveled across Texas photographing Latino and Tejano performers. He helped the great Tejano stars, Emilio Navaira and Ram Herrera, with their early efforts by promoting their events in the media and with local radio stations. Hernandez also wrote a weekly column for the San Antonio Express-News in the 1980s and interviewed and became friends with Freddy Fender and Vicente Fernandez. His photographs of Selena appeared in a special Newsweek edition and People Magazine.
In the 1990s, Hernández set aside time to promote the preservation of the popular Mexican Alameda Theater. Hernández remembered visiting the popular Alameda every week as a young boy with his stepfather whose friendships with the theater manager gained them access to backstage dressing rooms. On some of those visits, he met Mexico’s most famous singers, Pedro Infante and José Alfredo Jiménez. In the 1990s San Antonio city planners sought to demolish the Latino landmark and
create new parking spaces. Hernández’s campaign to preserve the theater appealed to many Latino music lovers, and, as resistance built, the Alameda was saved.
Hernández continues his research on Latino musicians and singers. He recently wrote a book titled Redneck Meskin Cowboy: The Story of Little Joe and wrote the timelines for the book on Freddy Fender [Freddy Fender: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights]. His music archives acquired by Texas State University will be a treasure for researchers and historians who explore the importance of Latino music and culture in the U.S. Southwest and beyond.
Copyright by Ricardo Romo. Photos courtesy of the Whittliff Collection, Ramón and Martha Hernández.