Henry Falcón Cuesta, who gained fame as a featured clarinetist with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra and as a solo artist, was born in McAllen, Texas, on December 23, 1931.
Cuesta, whose cousins included clarinetist Ernie Caceres and violinist Emilio Caceres, studied classical violin with his father, violinist Miguel Cuesta. By the time he was a teenager, however, the young Cuesta took up the clarinet. He became so adept at the instrument that he performed with the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra while still in high school. Cuesta later majored in music at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.
After being drafted into the United States Army in 1952, he served with the Special Services branch and performed for U.S. troops throughout Europe. Following his military service, Cuesta was a musician in the United States and in Canada. During this period, he played with the big bands of Ted Lewis, Jack Teagarden, and Shep Fields. In addition, Cuesta led his own band during the 1960s.
While Cuesta was performing in Toronto, Lawrence Welk asked him to appear with his orchestra in Lake Tahoe, California. At the time, Welk was seeking a new clarinetist to join his band. According to Cuesta, Welk offered him the position after his performance in Lake Tahoe and exclaimed, “OK, Henry get yourself a haircut and you have yourself a job.” Cuesta went on to play clarinet with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra from 1972 through 1982, when the Welk band ended its long-running television program. The album Lawrence Welk Presents the Clarinet of Henry Cuesta was released in 1976.
Apart from his work as a featured clarinetist with the Welk band, Cuesta was a soloist with singers Mel Torme and Bobby Vinton. In addition, he performed with jazz bands and pop symphonies. Among his most significant performances was his appearance at both inaugurations of U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton.
Cuesta paid tribute to Lawrence Welk and appeared in several salutes to him on public television, and he co-hosted “A Champagne Toast to the Big Bands” on public television. He also performed at Welk Resorts in San Diego, California, and Branson, Missouri, and toured with other musicians from The Lawrence Welk Show. He once noted that Welk “loved” the clarinet and “expected a lot of his musicians.”
Henry Cuesta was married to Janette Cuesta, and the couple had three children, Marion, Lucinda, and Henry Cuesta, Jr. He fell ill with cancer and died at the age of seventy-one in Sherman Oaks, California, on December 17, 2003. He was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica, California. Cuesta is honored in the South Texas Music Walk of Fame.