Alma Garza, Leading Tejano Music Radio Announcer and Ambassador, Dies in Fresno
Alma Garza, veteran on-air personality at Radio Bilingüe and popular host of the top-rated “Onda Tejana” Tex-Mex music program, has died. She passed away on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Fresno, California after a long struggle with diabetes. She was 68.
One of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenters of Tejano and Conjunto music in the U.S., Garza was known affectionately simply as “Miss Alma” to her legions of fans in the large, close-knit on-air listening community she cultivated over 30 years on Radio Bilingüe stations and affiliates, from Fresno all along the border to her native Rio Grande Valley of Texas and beyond. With her quick wit and encyclopedic Tejano knowledge, Miss Alma’s friends and admirers included musical legends from Little Joe y La Familia to David Lee Garza to Jesse Serrata, who treasured their time in conversation with her on her programs and acknowledged her as the leading ambassador of the genre.
Radio Bilingüe, the National Latino Public Radio Network headquartered in Fresno, CA, released a statement Thursday: “It is with heavy hearts that we’re sharing the very saddest of news of the passing of our dear compañera, Miss Alma Garza. Nobody could cheer our hearts like Miss Alma as she played the greatest and most soulful Tex-Mex music for us every Saturday. For her audience and her Radio Bilingüe friends, she was the best of company through all of our highs and lows in life, connecting families, sweethearts, comadres, compadres y ‘toda la raza guatosa.’ Nobody lived more ‘bilingüe’ than Miss Alma, who was passionate and proud about her family, her community, her languages – Spanish, English and Spanglish – and her roots. She is a Puro Tejano treasure and one of our own.”
Alma Garza was born in the border town of Donna, Texas in 1948. She made California’s San Joaquin Valley her second home, arriving at age 13 with her family to work the cotton and grape fields. She moved to the farmworking town of Parlier, California in 1962 and eventually to the nearby city of Fresno where she raised her family, whose survivors include five children Johnny, Jenette, Joy, Jose and Corina, 25 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren, 2 sisters and a brother.
Radio Bilingüe founder and Executive Director Hugo Morales said, “Alma Garza through her life represented what Radio Bilingüe set out to do in 1976: to provide the platform for Mexican-American authentic voices and the traditional arts to flourish. Alma Garza did that every minute she was on our microphones for three decades beginning in 1985. Her life and her being is the story of the Mexican-American Tejano migrant. With limited formal education, she came to our studios as a community volunteer with her authentic Rio Grande voice and her extensive knowledge and genius for the border music. This propelled her show to be the most highly rated musical show in our clock. In 2000 we were able to bring her on staff. Her fans ranged from judges and lawyers to the barrio families among whom she lived until her death. Alma started a movement for Tejano music outside of Texas, and that movement will continue to thrive.”
Radio Bilingüe News Director Samuel Orozco paid tribute to Miss Alma on the national talk show Línea Abierta on Thursday March 10: “Alma Garza had a boundless sense of humor and spirit of joy – and she had a contagious love for her homeland, the land where she was born and raised, the Rio Grande Valley. She loved her Tejano people and her music, the music of her grandparents, the ballads of the beautiful border – a love she projected into her faithful listeners that tuned in for decades. Conjunto’s songs of love and work and loss and resilience – these told her story and those of her listeners. The Tejano icons of border music who revered Alma — Mingo Saldivar, Valerio Longoria, Santiago Jimenez Jr., Los Dos Gilbertos, Ruben Vela, Linda Escobar – recognized her as the gatekeeper of the music that was in the soul of her people, a true institution who dedicated her life to cultivating and safeguarding the genre, and thus planting a renewed appreciation for Tejano music in the hearts of more than one generation.”
Reactions are pouring into Radio Bilingüe’s facebook page following the announcement of Miss Alma’s passing, with one speaking for all:
“This is the saddest day in radio. Rest in peace, Reina Tejana – Tejana Queen. A todo vuelo al cielo te vas – Fly fast to heaven.” - Cecilia Chaves, Keyes, CA
Services for Alma Garza are pending and will be announced when available by Radio Bilingüe.