National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Beatriz Llamas

Two older women-one wearing a blue cape and one wearing a red cape-sing on stage with a mariachi band in the background

Beatriz "La Paloma del Norte" Llamas (foreground right) and Blanquita “Blanca Rosa” Rodríguez (foreground left) perform during the 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellowship concert in Washington, DC.
Photo by Tom Pich

Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Beatriz "La Paloma del Norte" Llamas, recipient—along with Blanquita “Blanca Rosa” Rodríguez—of a 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Llamas grew up in the Westside of San Antonio, Texas. Her personal style and grace helped to form Las Tesoros de San Antonio, the unique ensemble that represented the important sound of the Mexico/Texas border.

Las Tesoros de San Antonio were a group of elder women performers who teamed up to preserve Mexican and bicultural musical expressions through their singing and storytelling. Janet “Perla Tapatia” Cortez, Beatriz “La Paloma del Norte” Llamas, Blanquita “Blanca Rosa” Rodríguez, and Rita “La Calandria” Vidaurri each had incredible singing careers that soared both locally and internationally in the 1940s–1960s before tapering off in later years. Through the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center in San Antonio, these women reemerged and teamed up as the group Las Tesoros in the 2000s. Janet “Perla Tapatia” Cortez and Rita “La Calandria” Vidaurri passed away in 2014 and 2019, respectively, leaving Rodríguez as the sole remaining member of the group.

Beatriz Llamas was born in 1938 in Aguascalientes, México. When she was 11, she moved with her mother and sister to Edinburg, Texas, to join her father. In 1951, the Llamas family moved to San Antonio and Llamas entered her first talent contest. While Eva Ybarra (2017 NEA National Heritage Fellow) bested her, she entered another contest and won, beginning her career singing on radio shows, and touring with different musical acts. Llamas gained attention from the owners of Sombrero Records and began recording singles. She worked with KCOR—one the country’s first full-time, Spanish-language radio stations—sharing the stage with Alberto and Arturo López, the latter to whom she later married. In 1995, she was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame and in 1999 she was inducted into the Tejano Conjunto Hall of Fame.

“There was affirmation from the community. They depended on their voice … on their music,” said Graciela Sanchez, Executive Director of Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, speaking about Las Tesoros de San Antonio in this tribute video. “It was an affirmation of our history, our culture, and our values.”