Texas-Mexican conjunto musician Valerio Longoria was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi (some sources say Kenedy, Texas), on December 27 (some sources say March 13), 1924. Because he was the son of migrant farmworkers and worked as a child in the fields with his father, he rarely attended school. Nevertheless, he displayed an early talent for music. At age six he was given his first guitar and learned to play the basics. A year later, his father bought him a two-row model accordion for ten dollars. Longoria began playing the accordion by watching conjunto pioneer Narciso Martínez. By the 1930s he was playing at weddings and parties in Harlingen. At age eighteen he was drafted into the United States Army and stationed in Germany. There he played the accordion at local nightclubs.
When he returned to the United States in 1945 he moved to San Antonio, where Corona Records recorded his first songs in 1947––the polka "Cielito" and the corrido "Jesús Cadena." Over the next two years Longoria recorded several hits for the Corona label, including the canción ranchera "El Rosalito." He then signed with Ideal Records and stayed with that company for eight years, earning a fee of twenty dollars a recording, compared to the Corona fee of fifteen dollars. With Ideal, Longoria established himself as one of the most innovative of the new generation of conjunto musicians. In 1959 he moved to Chicago, where he recorded for Firma Records. Unfortunately, the company did not promote or distribute his recordings in Texas. Eight years later Longoria moved to Los Angeles and signed with Volcán Records. Like Firma, Volcán did not market Longoria's music in Texas, a failure that caused his fame and fan support to fade.
Even though Longoria never duplicated his earlier success, he recorded more than 200 songs for several labels in his sixty-year career. He was the first musician to combine lyrics with the accordion sound, and is credited with being the first conjunto musician to experiment with octave tuning and to introduce drums and boleros to the conjunto repertoire. In 1982 he was among the first inductees into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame. In 1986 he was recognized with the highest honor for a folk artist when he was awarded the National Heritage Award. The Texas Polka Music Association honored Longoria with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. In March 2000 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the San Antonio Current Music Awards. In October of that year the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, which had hired him in 1981 to teach accordion to young students on San Antonio's West Side, honored him with yet another Lifetime Achievement Award. Longoria had taught hundreds of students to play the accordion.
In June 2000 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, of which he subsequently died on December 15 of that year. He was buried in Mission Burial Park South in San Antonio. He was survived by his wife, Rebecca, and five sons, Valerio III, Alex, Juan, Flavio, and Valerio IV. Longoria was inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame in 2001. A new DVD, Valerio Longoria: Legacy of a Maestro, by filmmaker Hector Galán was released in 2012.
Ramiro Burr, The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music (New York: Billboard, 1999). Manuel Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). Manuel Peña, Música Tejana: The Cultural Economy of Artistic Transformation (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999). San Antonio Express-News, December 16, 2000.
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