Cantú, Camilo (1907–1998)

By: Clayton T. Shorkey

Type: Biography

Published: July 8, 2014

Updated: October 18, 2015

Camilo Cantú was the major accordionist in the Central Texas area from the 1930s through 1963. Camilo was born on March 4, 1907, in Sabinas Hidalgo, Neuvo León, Mexico. While still a boy he immigrated to Lockhart, Texas, and when he was in his early teens he moved to Austin. He began playing on a small keyboard accordion but soon switched to the button style and learned to play from Leopoldo Guajardo who came to Austin from Monterrey in the early 1920s and remained popular into the 1930s. In 1930 Cantú purchased his first two-row button accordion and began to play at parties in private homes with his brother-in-law, guitarist Santiago Guajardo (the son of Leopoldo), and with Felipe Rodríquez who played tololoche. During the 1930s and 1940s Cantú picked cotton, did other field work, and played on weekends in the Central Texas area. Parties were held in private homes at the time because there were no dance halls in the rural areas until the late 1940s. Conjunto musician Johnny Degollado remembered attending such dances with his parents during this time and recalled the large crowds that enjoyed Camilo's music. Cantú and his trio later headlined many shows at a popular outdoor club called La Polkita, located in Del Valle. A musical contemporary of Narciso Martínez and Santiago Jiménez, Sr., Cantú was known as “El Azote de Austin” (“The Scourge of Austin”) and has been called “the greatest accordion player in Central Texas in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” but sadly, no recordings were ever made of his music, and therefore Cantú's group did not receive the recognition of other conjuntos that recorded during this period. He had a significant impact on younger musicians however, and Cantú taught his songs to Isidro Samilpa and Johnny Degollado. Cantú married about 1959 or 1960. In 1963 he retired from performing and opened a small accordion repair shop in his home in Austin. In 1987 he was inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame. He died in Austin on March 3, 1998. He was survived by his wife Gertrudes. Cantú was honored with the Idolos del Barrio award by the Austin Latino Music Association in 2004 and was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial in 2009.

Austin American-Statesman, March 5, 1998. PBS: Accordion Dreams—Pioneers and Innovators (, accessed June 30, 2008. “Yo soy de aqui,” Photographic Exhibition of Central Texas Conjunto Accordion Players (, accessed June 30, 2008.

  • Music
  • Genres (Conjunto, Tejano, and Border)
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clayton T. Shorkey, “Cantú, Camilo,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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July 8, 2014
October 18, 2015

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