Born Letitia Hinojosa on December 6, 1955, in San Antonio, TX; daughter of Felipe and Maria Hinojosa; married Craig Barker, 1982; children: Adam, Maria Christina (Nina). Addresses: Record company--Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140, phone: (800) 768-6337, website: http://www.rounder.com. Management--Manazo Music Management, P.O. Box 3304, Austin, TX 78764.

Singer and songwriter Tish Hinojosa does not so much cross musical borders as ignore them. Her music combines sounds and styles from American folk music, Nashville's country-western, traditional Mexican genres, and Tejano conjunto music, or Mexican- American music from Texas. She writes everything from love songs to protest songs, ballads to dance tunes. Her exciting and interesting genre-bending style has also delayed her success somewhat, for recording companies like neat classifications, which Hin ojosa's music defies. She started singing professionally in the 1970s and began recording albums in the 1980s, but only started receiving regular national attention in the 1990s.

The youngest of 13 children born to immigrant parents, Hinojosa listened to many different kinds of sounds during her childhood. Her older brothers and sisters listened to folk and popular music of the 1960s, by artists like Joan Baez and Judy Colli ns. Her parents listened to the radio stations playing Mexican music. "I love the music of the traditional aspect of our community," she told Hispanic magazine. "Conjunto music, the ballads, and the romantic singer/songwriter so ngs--the older music from Mexico that my parents like a lot--made a very positive impression."

Hinojosa herself began singing while in high school after her mother bought her a guitar. She explained to the Dallas Morning News: "It was just the $20 guitar you get down [in Mexico] at the Mercado. But I was really, rea lly proud, and I still have that guitar."

In music, Hinojosa found something all her own. "Finally," she declared to the Dallas Morning News, "I [had] found something I could do myself. I wasn't just tagging along with my sisters somewhere." She also discovered th at she had a special gift. She was singing one day at school with her friends, she told the newspaper, "and I started singing one song. They all just sat there kind of quietly, and they said: 'You know that you can sing?'" She did not read musical n otation, but taught herself songs by ear from records. Her sister Linda Gonzalez described the process to the Dallas Morning News: "She'd sit in her room and play a record over and over again until she could pick the notes out. She never took guitar lessons."

Began Musical Career

After graduating from high school, Hinojosa started performing around town, recording popular tunes in Spanish for a leading Tejano label, and singing jingles in Spanish for radio commercials. After a few years without moving ahead in her career, sh e moved first to New Mexico and then to Nashville, seeking new music and new opportunities. She traveled around the country to perform at colleges and coffee houses; she began learning the country-western hits of singers like Emmylou Harris and Roseanne C ash; and she landed a job singing demo tapes for the Mel Tillis Publishing Company. After two years in Nashville without signing a record deal, she moved back home to San Antonio to regroup. In the following years, she began to sing more of her own songs, and in 1987, released a privately-recorded collection entitled Taos to Tennessee.

During these years, Hinojosa had trouble landing a major recording label because of her eclectic sound. No one could quite categorize her music. She sang folk music, country-western songs, and conjunto songs; many of her own compositions synthesized traits from all these styles. To critics outside Nashville she was too country, to others inside Nashville, she was not country enough.

That Hinojosa didn't fit any mold gave the record companies a good excuse to ignore her for a few years. "There's so much talk now about artists who have fallen between the cracks," she told the Los Angeles Times. "So many of the singer-songwriters just don't fit into niches in Nashville or in pop music anymore. I guess I'm one of those. But I feel like I'm in good company, because I like a lot of people that are in the same crack that I'm in."

Hinojosa's record Taos to Tennessee sold well locally, received some notice, and started turning her career around. Two years later, she recorded her first major-label album, Homeland, for A& M Records. The album contains the sounds and songs typical for Hinojosa--a combination of country-western, folk, and conjunto, presented in both Spanish and English.

Benefited from Music Label Switch

While Homeland garnered rave reviews, Hinojosa's relationship with A&M did not last. Only a week before the company was due to release her second album there was a management shake-up, and they dropped her from their r egister. "It was one of those hard, fast lessons about what major record labels are about, " she told the Los Angeles Times. "It's one of those confusing things. I'm not sure if and who to blame, and why there's people there tha t I never heard from again and while I was there they acted like they were real good friends. It was kind of a strange little thing."

The end of Hinojosa's association with A&M had a positive side, however, for she recorded the material for the her second album all over again, but this time in Austin rather than in Hollywood. Hinojosa was extremely pleased with the results. "W hat we got is a lot more personal record," she explained to the Los Angeles Times. "It's a lot more of me, a lot more of Texas. The sound is a lot more real, my sound.... In L.A. it was a lot less time spent on a lot more frill s. And what we did in Texas, a lot more heart went into it, a lot more time and thought." Culture Swing was finally released in 1992 by the independent folk-oriented label Rounder Records. The New York Times praised the work, calling its typical combination of Spanish and English, folk, country, and conjunto sounds a "panoramic musical landscape."

Hinojosa's fortune seemed to change again after the production of Culture Swing. She began writing new material with a new sound. "I was going in all kinds of directions," she explained in Hispanic magazine. "Its real personal, but on a different level than Culture Swing." This new sound caught the ear of the Warner Bros. label. "Originally, the new album was to have been my second for Rounder Records, the label that re leased Culture Swing," she continued in Hispanic. "But the flavor of the recording took a different direction. It still had some Spanish language in it and a bit of Spanish sensitivity, but lyrically a nd musically, it stretched out further. I don't want to call it pop, because that's too general a term, but a major label sensed its potential and signed me to a long-term contract."

Later Works

In the winter of 1994, Warner Bros. released Destiny's Gate. Entertainment Weekly music reviewer Bob Cannon referred to it as "another exotic blend of TexMex, folk, and country, with [Hinojosa's] sensual soprano adding depth to everything she touches." Her next recording titled Frontejas also won favorable reviews. "Her passion for the music of the border region of Mexico and Texas is presented with missionary zeal," wr ote Hispanic. "It is the purity and sincerity of Hinojosa's sweet, expressive voice that makes Frontejas such a remarkable and highly recommended work." Hinojosa also found time to perform live with th e 1995 Border Tour, a collection of Texas musicians representing various musical genres.

After Destiny's Gate, Hinojosa began working on a bilingual children's album titled Cada Niño/Every Child. Traditional Mexican songs performed by Hinojosa in a folk/rock style, Publishers Weekly stated that the 1996 recording was "[n]ot frenzied or raucous ... a good pick for quiet times and thoughtful children." That same year, Hinojosa released an album titled Dreaming of the Labyrinth/Soñ;ar del Laberinto, which the Phoenix New Times referred to as "the most provocative and accomplished recording of the Austin singer/songwriter's career. As the title implies, the recording is suffused with elegant dre am imagery." In 2000, Hinojosa released Sign of Truth, a pop- and folk-infused variation on her traditional Tex-Mex sound. According to Bob Gottlieb of All Music Guide, "this is a disc that speaks of l ove and growing, the puzzles in life, and somehow taps into the rhythm of the heart. It ... brings comfort with it carried in her voice even when she speaks of love that has vanished. There is a sincerity here that is getting difficult to find."

Supporter of Bilingual Education

During 1996, Hinojosa also began working on behalf of the National Association for Bilingual Education as well as the National Latino Children's Agenda in an effort to support bilingual education. Relating to her own childhood experience of speaking Spanish and English, Hinojosa stated, "Children shouldn't be made to feel that their language is something that needs to be taken away from them or washed away, as if it's some form of defect." It is evident that despite the conflicts and problems her u nique musical style has engendered for her, Hinojosa has no plans to change her musical approach. As she stated in a Manazo Music press kit, "When you resist pop formulas for your own artistic vision, the twists are sometimes confusing, but now I'm seeing the wonderful results of not straying from a true road."

by Robin Armstrong

Tish Hinojosa's Career

Began performing locally and on local radio, 1973; sang for Mel Tillis Production Company, Nashville, TN, 1983-85; recorded first album, Taos to Tennessee, 1987; performed at Texas Governor Ann Richard's inauguration, 1991; performed at U.S. President Bill Clinton's inauguration, 1993; television appearances include CBS This Morning, 1993; radio appearances include Prairie Home Companion and All Things Considered, 1994; released twelve albums, including Taos to Tennessee, Homeland, Aquella Noche, Culture Swing, Destiny's Gate, Frontejas, Cada Niño/Every Child, Dreaming of the Labyrinth/Soñar del Laberinto, and Sign of Truth, 1987-2000.

Tish Hinojosa's Awards

First Prize for New Folk Songwriter, Kearville Folk Festival, 1979; Folk Album of the Year, National Association of Independent Record Distributors for Culture Swing, 1992.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

March 29, 2005: Hinojosa's album, A Heart Wide Open, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp, April 1, 2005.

Further Reading

Sources

BooksPeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 6 years ago

I never heard a more beautiful or touching version of the Spanish Christmas classic "Nanita Nana" than the one so beautifully sung by Tish. This was the first song I ever heard of hers, and naturally, I fell in love with her voice right away.

over 6 years ago

I don't know how to speak Spanish, but I found the song "De Colores" to be beautifully hypnotic. I must have listened to it a hundred times and I still love it.

over 8 years ago

the song something in the rain is so lovly i also know what does it mean you are so kind. of caring about the farmers if i only had a wonderful voice like you i would start donig the same steps you took. just to get so far where you are now. you are so wonderful i am your most fan, i tell you one thing the song something in the rain is my favorite song......a am in in 7th grade, one thing for sure i love your song