The day started out pretty normal but I was excited because today my father, Juan Sifuentes Sr.,would be playing in Kingsville, Texas with El Conjunto Bernal. It was new years eve. I was in the 9th or 10th grade. My father was no longer with Bernal but on the radio they had been announcing, "Augustine Ramirez Y El Conjunto Bernal‘«™Y Envitado de Honor‘«™Juan Sifuentes !" I asked my dad what that meant and he stated, "That means they don't want to pay me." We both broke out in laughter.
I was also happy about the occasion because my Dad was taking all of us to the dance. My Mom, sister, and my aunt and uncle, Yolanda (Mom's sister) and John Reid. I knew it would be awesome. The dance would be at the Crimson Palace.
The trip to Kingsville was great. My Dad, uncle John, and me went in one car and "the Girls " went in another. There was lots of talking and laughter on the 30 minute trip. Those of you who had the unique experience of seeing and hearing my Dad's laughter know what I am talking about.
I know that there was another group playing but I just can't remember who it was. To the group. I Apologize. I can't remember most of the night being that I kept going back and forth through out the night running errands for my Dad (don't ask). I was finally able to take a breather when Bernal came on stage.
Watching Bernal play was always a great experience and a half. My father would not come on stage until a little later as a featured artist. I remember people dancing the night away and the place was packed. There was a lot of twisting and twirling of bodies everywhere. Looking at Mi Gente dance has always been a pleasure of mine. Every couple has it's unique way of expressing themselves with their dancing. One can tell, by the way they dance, whether they are just there for fun, having a special occasion, or really in love by the way they dance.
Half way through Bernal's performance, Eloy Bernal made an announcement. He stated that there was a young lady who wanted to ask a favor. I looked up and saw an ANGEL. My God, this young lady was beautiful. She was wearing a bright yellow shirt that looked like it was made of "short haired" mink with black leather pants that fit her like a glove. She was wearing the most delicious looking ruby red lip-gloss I had ever seen on a women. She was, in my book, one of the top five most beautiful women I had seen this side of the galaxy.
After my absolutely gorgeous distraction, Eloy asked the young lady what her name was and how he could help her. With a beautiful smile she said , "My name is Laura Canales and I would like to sing a song if you let me." Eloy asked her if she knew how to sing," She said. I don't know let me try and we will both find out." Eloy asked the crowd if it was okay with them. Most of the crowd shouted their approval.
After I got over the distraction of her beauty I said to myself, "Another Bimbo who thinks she can sing." You have to understand that back then there was very few women singing in Tejano.
Our Gente had a very chauvinistic mentality that women should be barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, stay at home people. It was not right but that is the way it was.
Miss Laura said she would like to sing "Volver,Volver" by Vicente Fernandez. I was not impressed, being that every conjunto was playing that song and I really thought that the song had wore itself out. Boy was I wrong. When Laura started singing I was really surprised how strong her voice was and she immediately took command of the stage.
I looked around and everyone was paying attention. When she got to the chorus "Y Volver,Volver, Volver‘«™." there was a symphony of gritos coming from the audience. She finished her song and got a standing ovation. That performance alone was worth the trip to Kingsville. I had to walk over to her and say something. I snaked my way through the crowd to where she was. Several people were crowded around her so I waited my turn.
I was completely taken away by her beauty and smile.
She finished talking to a couple and turned to look at me. I said, "My name is Juan Sifuentes Jr. (trying to impress her). She said, "Well, hello Juan Sifuentes Jr," and shook my hand. I froze and didn't know what to say after that. I just said, "Great Job" and talked a little with her. I thanked her for her time. I asked her if she sang with a group and she said no but that she hoped to one of these days. I walked away with this feeling that some how‘«™.. It Was Going To Happen!
That night stayed forever etched in my mind. Time went by and I wondered if that beautiful young lady stayed with the music. I was sitting at home on a Sunday morning watching the Domingo Pena Show. Bernal was going to be on the show. Imagine my surprise when Eloy Bernal announced the first female member of Conjunto Bernal. I was even more surprised when it was Laura Canales. She recorded "Yo Conosi Mujeres " with Bernal.
The years went by and we crossed paths many times. Laura and I became very good friends. She once told me that she never forgot the first day we met. That meant a lot to me. I considered her an artist by now. She was really down to earth and had a sense of humor. I remember one day that I stayed at a mutual friends house for a week and so did Laura. She was singing with Snowball and Company back then. We were sitting in the living room watching Soul Train when I heard Laura "Pass Gas." I looked at her and told her that it wasn't very lady like of her to do that. She snapped at me saying, "Hey! I chew gum, pick my nose, and pass gas like everybody else on EARTH." I looked at her and said, "Yes Ma'am". She replied " You can quit that Ma'am crap too"‘«™. I said, "Okay"‘«™..
I really miss "La Reina" and I sometimes shed a tear or two thinking about her. Javier Villanueva and I went to visit her when she was first put in the hospital before she passed away. She couldn't talk much and she was very happy to see us but was not happy about the circumstances. I met her Mom and Brother for the first time that day. One look at her Mom and I knew instantly where Laura got her Gorgeous Look from.
The family asked Javier and I if we would be able to handle the PR for Laura being that the hospital phone lines were being taken over from people across the nation wanting to know the condition of Laura. That was a request that we were more than happy to take care of. We used the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. website to take care of any e-mails and messages for Laura. One day we got over 30,000 e-mails and messages for her. We printed out as much as we could and sent them to the family.
I was sitting at home at night when I got a text message that Laura had passed away. I sat by my computer and started to cry. I really didn't want that day to come‘«™After I got myself together I decided that it was time for the world to know. I posted it on our website and I believe on the Tejano Journal also. The news spread fast .
Laura did a lot for the female singers of today.
She endured a lot of prejudice from a lot of our people. I was really impressed that she never dressed provocatively wearing reveling clothes. She dressed very elegantly and lady-like.
On the next Tejano R.O.O.T.S. inductions we gave a tribute to Laura. We played, on a giant screen, a video of Laura on the OTTI competition, a yearly contest for songwriters. Artists are picked to sing a song from the songwriters. Laura was chosen to sing a song. She was representing the area of San Antonio, Texas.
As we played the video the people were very quiet. As Laura started to sing a tear ran down my cheek. I look around a many people were doing the same. The song Laura was singing was named "Naci Para Cantar". A song that fit her to a "T". When the video was over the crowd quickly rose to their feet and gave Laura a long standing ovation. (One moment please, I am starting to cry‘«™Be Back in a minute)‘«™.Even Though Laura was no longer with us she gave us one more OUTSTANDING performance‘«™‘«™I like to watch the video every now and then‘«™.Just to remind me of what an incredible artist and friend she was
I hope I have given Laura a little bit of JUSTICE writing this story‘«™..MI REINA, I LOVE AND MISS YOU SOOO MUCH‘«™..SO DOES THE REST OF THE TEJANO NATION.
Juan A. Sifuentes Jr.:
2nd generation Tejano Singer. Served as Board of Director 11 yrs. for Tejano R.o.o.t.s. Security Officer for one of the largest Security Companies in the world. Email the author