Nati Cano, the founder of Los Camperos de Nati Cano, considered the most accomplished and influential mariachi ensemble in the United States, died Friday. He was 81.
Cano is credited for establishing the foundation for allowing other groups to form, for recording of mariachi music, inclusion in festivals, competitions, cultural events and formal stage performances. He is also credited for bringing mariachi musicians into the top concert halls.
Cano was born on July 23, 1933, in the small village of Ahuisculco in the western Mexican state of Jalisco to a family of day laborers who played mariachi music in their free time.
Cano’s father Sotero began teaching him how to play the vihuela when he was 6 years old. Two years later, Cano enrolled at the Academia de Musica in Guadalajara to study the violin. He left after six years, against the wishes of his instructor, Ignacio Camerena, to join his father and help support his family by playing in local cantinas and cafes.
In 1950, Cano persuaded his father to let him travel to the border town of Mexicali to join the Mariachi Chapala. Though he was the youngest musician in the group by at least 10 years, he soon became its musical arranger.
Cano moved to Los Angeles in 1960, joining Mariachi Aguila, the house ensemble at the Million Dollar Theatre. Upon the death of the group’s director, Jose Frias, Cano became the new leader and renamed the group Los Camperos.
Cano founded La Fonda restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in 1967, in part to give Los Camperos a venue to play at.
Cano is also noted for collaborating with Linda Ronstadt in the production of the 1987 album “Canciones de Mi Padre” and developed touring shows including Fiesta Navidad. and Mariachi Folklor Pasion Mexicana.
Cano and other members of Los Camperos developed several new generations of young musicians through the San Fernando-based Mariachi Apprentice Program. Members of Los Camperos teach and perform with middle school and high school students from the Northeast San Fernando Valley, performing under the name Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando.
This group of young Mariachi musicians has been honored at the White House and played for first lady Michelle Obama and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
“So many musicians and dancers got their start from working with Nati,” said Javier Verdin, a folklorista and co-founder of Ballet Folklorico Ollin.
“No one can dispute that mariachi music is popular in the United States today and it has been handed down to our young people with much dignity, because of the work of Nati Cano.”
Services for Cano are pending.