Tejano Music Legend ‘Little Joe’: His Improbable, Amazing Journey

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His story is the stuff of Hollywood scripts, the ones too good to be true. One of 13 children, born on a dirt floor garage in Temple, Texas, who becomes the man of the house when his father is sent to prison. A shy kid at 15, he picks up a guitar, realizes it beats picking cotton, and strikes a match on a trailblazing musical career spanning more than 50 years, which takes him around the world, produces a friendship with Cesar Chavez, wins him accolades and five Grammys and makes him, like Chavez, an iconic figure among his fellow Mexican Americans.

But Jose Maria Deleon Hernandez – you might know him simply as Little Joe — pondered that story, his own, and declared he couldn’t imagine anyone would be interested in it.

Oh, that was just Joe being Joe, his friends say. Humble. A giver, not a seeker of the spotlight.

Now, his improbable story is coming to the big screen. Filming has begun on “Recuerdos: The Life and Music of Little Joe,” a documentary which producers hope to unveil in 2015. After some coaxing, they were able to sell the legendary Tejano performer on the project.

Hernandez admits he was reluctant when approached by producer Una McGinnis. But he told NBC News Latino he signed off when he considered that his life story might inspire other Mexican Americans.

“Chicanisimo, where we come from, nuestra cultura, that has never really been focused on. We need to highlight who we are,” Hernandez said.

McGinnis and those associated with the project couldn’t be more tickled.

“I don’t think there’s anybody from here to California and Walla Walla and Chicago and in between who when you ask, ‘Do you know Little Joe?’ The first words out of their mouth are, ‘I love Little Joe,'” McGinnis told NBC Latino.

“His is truly an American success story. It needed to be told,” said Dwayne Ulloa, a veteran music industry figure who is helping raise money for the project through an online funding site.

At 74, Hernandez is still known as King of the Brown Sound, a consummate performer and a musical innovator who blended an exuberant, stylized mix of traditional Mexican Norteño sounds with country, blues, roots and rock.

Credit to Juan Castillo (NBC News)

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