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Rosa Guadalupe: star, interrupted

By Fredric Dannen

The supremely gifted singer and guitarist Rosa Guadalupe Valdés de Hoyos, who last year moved from Mexico City to San Miguel to teach and occasionally perform in quiet obscurity, can probably pinpoint the exact moment she turned her back on stardom.

Concert, w/Rosa Guadalupe, Wed, Jul 25, 7pm, Teatro Ángela Peralta, Hernández Macías & Mesones, 200/100

It was 1979, and 24-year-old Rosita Valdés (as she then was known), was the lead singer of a group called Viraje. Valdés was a serious musician, an award-winning classical guitarist, who had taken up singing almost as a lark. She was also a sultry stage presence, with long, straight black hair. Valdés and the members of Viraje were being interviewed at a TV station when an influential producer pulled her aside, and said he wanted to promote her – as a soloist.

She turned him down flat. “I was angry,” recalled Valdés, who today uses Rosa Guadalupe as her stage name. “Viraje was like my family.” “Besides,” she added, “I didn’t study years of guitar to be told I had beautiful eyes.”

I had no idea a singer of her caliber was living in San Miguel until last February, when I attended one of the monthly music parties hosted by the pianist Greg Morton. I was upstairs when Guadalupe, now 57, began to play the guitar and sing the bolero Odiame. It got my attention. When she was finished, I asked her if she would appear with my group, the Third Stream Ensemble, to perform songs by Kurt Weill. Guadalupe, who sings well in English – she recently brought the house down at the Shelter Theater in colonia San Rafael with a rendition of a Carole King song – accepted the invitation. The concert, which will also feature works by George Gershwin, Ástor Piazzolla and Leonard Bernstein, will take place on July 25 at Teatro Á ngela Peralta.

Guadalupe was born in Mexico City, the fifth of six children in an upper-middle class family. She described her childhood as “overprotected.” Her father’s chauffeur drove her to and from the all-girls’ school she attended.

When Guadalupe was an adolescent, her father, a mathematician and engineer who went on to become a university president, hired a guitar teacher for himself and two of her older brothers. The teacher, Francisco Salinas, an elderly man who wore a hearing aid, permitted Guadalupe to attend lessons, unaware that afterward she would pick up a guitar and recreate what she had heard. “One day, Professor Salinas came to the house, and I was practicing,” Guadalupe said. “He saw me and turned on his hearing aid. And he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.”

At 19, she was the silver medallist in the Concurso Nacional de Guitarra – Mexico’s national classical guitar competition. The same year, she met Pedro Quintero, a guitarist and singer whom she married. Though they divorced after three years, they remained friends, and this past June 30 performed together for the first time in three and a half decades at the Shelter Theater. Quintero encouraged Guadalupe’s singing career, first featuring her in the duo Pedro y Rosita, and then performing Latin American songs with her in a group called Zenzontle.

Guadalupe said her conservative father had frowned upon her giving guitar concerts, and was horrified to find her singing in peñas (folk clubs). “He told me it would be my damnation,” she said. But her singing enchanted another man, the legendary Mexican songwriter José Sabre Marroquín, with whom she made several recordings, with the composer at the piano.

Guadalupe had no qualms about her new incarnation as a vocalist, except that “when I was singing I missed playing classical guitar, and when I played guitar concerts, I missed singing.” That problem was solved after she separated from Quintero and joined Viraje, which performed a mixture of songs and instrumental pieces. She stayed with the group for four years, during which time she toured Germany and the United States. In 1983, after Viraje broke up, she and a Latin drummer whom she never married had a son, Remy Fenoy, an accomplished musician in his own right. Fenoy is a master of the Cuban Tres, or three-string rhythm guitar. This past May 9, he and Guadalupe gave a concert together at the Shelter Theater. (Guadalupe has another out-of-wedlock son, Diego Gallardo, himself a talented percussionist, born in 1992.)

Remy’s birth solidified Guadalupe’s resolve not to pursue fame. “I didn’t want my son to have to travel with me,” she said. It was a decision she has never regretted.

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