Lopez, Trinidad III [Trini] (1937–2020)


By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: Biography

Published: September 2, 2021

Updated: September 2, 2021


Trinidad “Trini” López III, who achieved worldwide acclaim as a recording artist and performer, was born in Dallas, on May 15, 1937, to Trinidad López II and Petra (Gonzáles) López. When he was eleven years old, he received a twelve-dollar guitar from his father, who taught him to play the instrument. López called this gift and instruction “the biggest reward of my life.” One of six children, he lived in the Little Mexico neighborhood in Dallas. There, the promising singer performed on “street corners” and earned “coins” for renditions of “traditional Mexican songs.” At the age of fifteen, influenced by bluesman T-Bone Walker and, later, rocker Elvis Presley, López organized the Big Beats band, which performed at the fashionable Cipango Club in Dallas. He dropped out of N. R. Crozier Tech High School (later Dallas High) in his senior year to support his family with his singing and playing.

In 1958 López met Buddy Holly, which led the Beats to garner a contract with Columbia Records. However, the company refused to allow him to sing on the two instrumentals it issued. López quit the band and signed two more ill-fated contracts, first with the Dallas-based Volk Records, where he made his solo debut with the self-penned song “The Right to Rock,” and then with King Records. The singer refused Volk’s request that he hide his ethnicity by changing his last name, and King issued a number of singles, none of which charted.

His performing residency at P. J.’s, a Los Angeles club, was a pivotal moment in his quest for a professional career. Frank Sinatra, who saw him perform there, was impressed with his talent and helped him sign a recording contract with Reprise Records in 1963. Owing to the high “energy” of his performances at the club, his debut album Trini Lopez at PJ’s was recorded live. The album proved a resounding success and produced several hits, including his uniquely popular version of “If I Had a Hammer.” The upbeat folk song reached Number 3 on Billboard and remained on the pop charts for eleven weeks. It also reached Number 1 in thirty-six countries and sold more than a million copies. His album soon sparked a sequel—By Popular Demand!! More Trini Lopez at PJ’s which was released later in 1963.

Other career hit songs included “I’m Coming Home, Cindy,” which, along with “Lemon Tree,” reached Number 2 on the Easy Listening Chart. “Michael” hit Number 7, “Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now” reached Number 6, and “The Bramble Bush” made it to Number 4. All told, López had sixteen Top 40 songs for the five-year period between 1963 and 1968. A key to his success lay in his unique ability to engage his audience. “Making songs danceable helped me a lot,” López recalled. “Discotheques back in those days were not only playing my songs, they were playing my album all the way through.” He also imbued his songs “with joyous hoots and trills” from his Mexican heritage. As a youngster growing up in Dallas, he had suffered prejudice but clung to his heritage throughout his life. “I’m proud to be a Mexicano,” he asserted to the Seattle Times in 2017.

López’s success with his early albums led to a well-received live performing schedule on the Las Vegas show circuit and in venues throughout the world. He became an “international headliner” who could brag that he stole the show “every night” from the Beatles prior to their American debut, when he shared the Olympia Theatre in Paris with the then lesser-known group. He declared years later that the French press wrote, “Bravo, Trini López! Who are the Beatles?”

Over the course of a long career, López recorded more than thirty albums, mostly with the Reprise Label. During the mid-1960s he released an average of about five albums per year. He covered a variety of styles, including folk, blues, pop, and Latin. Although his recording career eventually slowed down, he continued to release albums through 2011, when he recorded Into the Future, an offering of songs made popular by Frank Sinatra. In his later years, he recorded and released several albums independently. He also appeared in half a dozen films between 1965 and 1995, including Marriage on the Rocks (1965), for which he also recorded “Sinner Man” for the soundtrack; The Dirty Dozen (1967); The Phynx (1970); and Antonio (1973), in which he played the title role. He starred in his own television variety show in 1969.

A talented guitarist, López designed the Trini Lopez Standard and the Lopez Deluxe guitars, produced from 1964 through 1971 for the Gibson Guitar Corporation. Both models became prized by notable guitarists and collectors. Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters credited López with helping create the band’s “sound.” Grohl commented, “Every album we have ever made, from the first to the latest, was recorded with my red Trini Lopez signature guitar. It is the sound of our band, and my most prized possession from the day I bought it in 1992."

The music industry recognized López for his performances and musical achievements. In 2002 he was inducted into the Las Vegas Casino Legends Hall of Fame. In 2003 he was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. My Name is Lopez, a documentary film about his life, was completed in 2020, with an expected release in 2021.

In 2020 Trini López fell ill with COVID-19 during the pandemic that spread throughout the United States. He died at the age of eighty-three on August 11, 2020, in Rancho Mirage, California. After his death, his ashes were scattered at sea.

All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed August 26, 2021. Internet Movie Database: Trini López (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0530382/bio), accessed August 26, 2021. Althea Legaspi, “Trini Lopez, ‘If I Had a Hammer’ Singer and Actor, Dead at 83 From Coronavirus,” August 11, 2020, Rolling Stone (https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/trini-lopez-dead-at-83-coronavirus-obituary-1042985/), accessed August 26, 2021. New York Times, August 11, 2020.

Categories:
  • Music
  • Genres (Folk)
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Performing Arts
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Lopez, Trinidad III [Trini],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lopez-trinidad-iii-trini.

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September 2, 2021
September 2, 2021

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