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Conjunto Music Hall of Famer Lorenzo Martinez passes away at 80

The San Antonio musician and music teacher passed away on Oct. 17.

Lorenzo Martinez (center) was inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in San Antonio, Texas, in May 2019 by Cristina Balli, Executive Director of Guadalup Cultural Arts Center, and Juan Tejeda, creator of Tejano Conjunto Festival. | Photo: Mariaelena Arocha / Tejano Nation

Conjunto Music Hall of Fame musician Lorenzo Martinez passed away on Saturday (Oct. 17) from complications of cardiac arrest. He was 80 years old.

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Martinez was known as a very humble and brilliant Conjunto music teacher, artist, and accordionist, passing on the tradition of the squeezebox to anyone that wanted to learn at the Conjunto Heritage Taller since 2004.

He came a long way from what first started as a dare from his grandfather.

Martinez was born on December 6, 1939, in San Antonio growing up on the westside. At just 10 years old, he was on his way home when came upon two men playing music in front of a large crowd on Saltillo and 19th street. Those two men were Flaco Jimenez and Joe Ponce. From that moment on, the sounds of the accordion intrigued Martinez and he knew right then and there that he wanted to learn how to play the acoordion. He mentioned the idea to his grandfather, Epifano Gamez, and his grandfather agreed to buy him an accordion but also told him for every song he learned he would pay him $1. He went on to earn $7 the first week.

Martinez’s parents were not very supportive in the beginning because they didn’t believe he could learn the accordion.

“My mother’s doubtfulness in me learning the accordion actually made me work that much harder and I believe she did this on purpose, sort of a reverse psychology that worked,” Martinez said in an interview with Street Talk Magazine in April 2019.

As Martinez got older, he would take his accordion everywhere with him, and soon other parents were asking him to show their children how to play the accordion. Often times he would stop and help other children his age get through a song on the accordion. Although he did attend elementary and junior high, he did not attend high school because he wanted to follow his accordion dreams and that he did!

Lorenzo Martinez (center wearing cap) with students from Conjunto Heritage Taller
Photo: Mariaelena Arocha/Tejano Nation

As time passed, Martinez had a family of his own and was now a father, he took this time away from music to concentrate on providing for his family and worked as a custodian at MacArthur High School for over 30 years.

When Martinez retired he wanted to get back to what his childhood dreams were, to teach Conjunto music to anyone that wanted to learn, not just children but anyone, any age and specifically he desperately wanted to learn how to read music. Leo Green would teach him how to read music and Martinez would study for hours and hours and he found great joy in learning new songs and most of all being able to read the music he loved.

In 2004, with an invitation from Rudy Lopez from The Conjunto Heritage Taller, Martinez would begin teaching accordion lessons at the Taller, and did until his passing. He has taught so many students how to play the accordion that he couldn’t possibly name every student. His students loved and adored him like no other. He dedicated his entire life to learning and teaching Conjunto music and was recognized by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center with an induction into the Conjunto Music Hall Of Fame in May 2019.

Martinez cared nothing about being famous or recognized, his whole being was concern about the students he taught. He spoke so lovingly about his students, “If my life ended today, I would want everyone to know how proud I am of all my students.”

“His dedication to Conjunto music is an inspiration to all of his students and friends,” read a post on the Conjunto Heritage Taller Facebook page announcing the passing of Martinez. “We will continue to hold him in our hearts and cherish his immense contributions to Conjunto music.

The last album released from Martinez was Old School Polkas Del Ghost Town, produced by SpringFed Records, John Fabke, Dan Margolies, and Greg Reish, featured are Martinez on accordion and Ramon “Rabbit” Sanchez on Bajo, truly an album for any music lover and Martinez was very proud of the album.

The legacy of Martinez will live on through his students and music.

Lorenzo Martinez | Photo: Mariaelena Arocha / Tejano Nation

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