Laura Hernández Cantú, who with her sister, Carmen Marroquín, formed the Tejana singing duet of Carmen y Laura, was born on May 25, 1926, in Kingsville, Texas. Beginning with the duet’s first recording in the 1940s, “Se Me Fue Mi Amor” (“My Love Went Away”), Cantú went on to have a highly-regarded career as a performer of the Tejano musical tradition of polkas, rancheras, and cumbias. Moreover, she and Carmen were also credited as some of the first Tejanas to include swing, blues, beguines, and foxtrots in their playlist. Cantú’s career with the duet, one of the most popular Tejana singing teams in the Southwest, lasted into the 1960s.
Like many Tejana singers, Cantú learned to sing at home. She and Carmen became skilled in the rigors of duet singing in a unique fashion. They practiced harmonizing as they carried out household chores in separate rooms at home, thereby discovering how to listen to each other closely. The duet singing style she and Carmen pursued and perfected was an outgrowth of the Mexican zarzuela stage which provided many women with opportunities to gain fame as singers, comediennes, dancers, and chorus girls. The female duet style replaced the Mexican stage’s emphasis on solo and choral singing and gained popularity in the 1920s, almost two decades before Cantú joined her sister in forming Carmen y Laura.
As a member of the duet, Cantú was one of the first women stars of Ideal Records, founded by fmannArmando Marroquín, her sister’s husband, in the 1940s. Accompanied by the best-known Tejano musicians, including Conjunto Bernal, Narciso Martínez, and Beto Villa and his orchestra, the women recorded hundreds of songs in their home base of Alice, Texas, and toured extensively throughout the Southwest as well as Kansas City, Kansas; Chicago, Illinois; and Monterrey, Mexico. Carmen y Laura worked intensely while on tour, often singing for dances that lasted for four hours.
From the duet’s first recording, said to have taken place in Carmen’s kitchen around which blankets were draped to improve the acoustics, to the recording of Carmen y Laura’s first song in English in the late 1940s, “Who’s Sorry Now,” Cantú lent her talent to interpreting themes of love and loss from the perspective of a woman. Although she was best-known for her work with Carmen, Laura Cantú also recorded with other highly-respected Tejana singers including Rosita Fernández and Delia Gutiérrez .
Laura Cantú earned acclaim for her many contributions to Tejano music. She was recognized by the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in San Antonio, the Texas Music Museum Hall of Fame in Austin, and by the Smithsonian Institution’s Folkways Recordings. The documentary film, Accordion Dreams (2001), also paid tribute to her work. Moreover, as a member of Carmen y Laura, she was inducted into the 2001 Class of the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame in Alice, the city where she first recorded professionally with her sister.
After retiring Laura Hernández Cantú continued to live in Alice, Texas. She died there on August 29, 2004, at the age of seventy-eight. A rosary was recited in her memory on August 31, and a Mass was celebrated for her on September 1 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Alice. She was buried at Roselawn Cemetery in that city. She was preceded in death by her husband Guadalupe S. Cantú and was survived by one son and three daughters.