by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
On June 5, 1992, conjunto pioneer Narciso Martinez died in San Benito, Texas. He left as his legacy the accordion’s prominent place in música tejana. Born in northern Mexico in 1911, Martinez’s family immigrated to Brownsville the same year. He learned to play the accordion in the late 1920s, influenced by the polkas of the state’s German and Czech communities.
When Martinez partnered with bajo sexto player Santiago Almeida, they laid the foundation for the conjunto sound. Martinez began focusing on the right-hand buttons of his accordion, leaving off the left-hand bass notes covered by Almeida’s instrument. The two began a prolific recording career with Bluebird in 1936.
After WWII, Martinez joined the regional Mexican American label Ideal based in Alice, Texas, and accompanied many of their artists, including the duo Carmen y Laura and orquesta bandleader Beto Villa. Even with his tremendous influence on the genre, Martinez struggled to make a living as an artist. He continued working in agriculture, trucking, and even at the Brownsville Zoo. By the 1970s and 80s though, historians began to recognize Martinez’s contributions. Films like Les Blank’s Chulas Fronteras and books like Manel Peña’s Texas-Mexican Conjunto secured his reputation as the Father of Conjunto Music.