Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Manuela C. García, the Voice Behind a Treasure Trove of Old Mexican Songs

A coloring page created by the Los Angeles Public Library's Octavia Lab. An illustration of Manuela C. García sitting next to a phonograph. Behind her is a faint sheet music background.
A coloring page created by the Los Angeles Public Library's Octavia Lab in celebration of heroes in California. Colored by Tina H. Lerno. | Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
Support Provided By

On Mother's Day 2021, the all-female Mariachi Las Colibrí, dressed in colorful skirts adorned with sequined hummingbirds, performed in the beautiful historic ticket hall of Union Station. The event honored mothers while paying homage to musician Manuela C. García. The ensemble's harmonic voices and stringed instruments echoed off the station's Art Deco walls as the troupe sang the mariachi classic "El Sauce y La Palma." But instead of performing the song's traditional words, the group sang the lyrics as written down in the hundred-year-old songbook of Los Angeles native and musician Manuela C. García.

An educator and singer born in Los Angeles in the late 1860s, Manuela C. García is known mostly by historians specializing in 19th-century Mexican American music. García is the voice behind over 100 songs in Charles Lummis' recordings of Southwest musical heritage. Between 1904 and 1906, Lummis recorded 35 musicians as they performed Mexican and Native American songs into the Edison phonograph. He ultimately produced over 450 wax cylinders archived at the Braun Research Library at the Southwest Museum and published some of them in his book "Spanish Songs of Old California." García "made the most recordings and they were recorded in Los Angeles. So it is the earliest group of recordings by one singer in L.A. history," explained John Koegel, author of the forthcoming book "Mexican-American Music from Southern California, circa 1840-1920: The Lummis Cylinder Collection and Other Sources." Lummis considered García his most important "informant" (his term for those he recorded) and wrote in 1905: "The most extraordinary achievement has been that Miss Manuela C. García, of Los Angeles, who has sung the records of no less than 150 songs, with the full words! Few can do that in any language, from sheer memory."

"Laura" by Manuela García (1904)

Born into a musical family, García was the daughter of Rosario Dias (also spelled Diaz and Diez) and Ygnacio García Sr., a prominent figure who arrived from Sinaloa, Mexico in the mid-1800s. He made a name for himself working with wealthy businessmen and rancheros like Jonathan Temple and Ygnacio del Valle. García's mother Rosario "was said to have a beautiful, resonant voice, accompanying herself on the guitar, and she filled the lives of her children with music and song," according to John Mack Faragher in his book "Eternity Street." García's siblings were also musical and several even recorded with Lummis. In fact, García and her little brother Ygnacio Jr. were occasional musical guests at Lummis' El Alisal home and he in turn was invited to the García home. An excerpt from his diary:

January 1,1909. Manuela's dinner was a howling success as usual... Manuela and Nacho came in singing a New Year's carol in Spanish and from then on during the rest of the two or three hours that the dinner lasted, there was singing, talking and chattering and a mighty good time.
Excerpt from the diary of Charles Lummis

García lived in their family home on Olive Street while she worked as a teacher and bookkeeper. In 1886, she attended classes at the Normal School, a teaching college (and predecessor to UCLA) but she earned her diploma from Los Angeles Business College and English Training. While she was known for her musical talents, she rarely performed publicly, preferring instead to play for more intimate gatherings. She did serve as musical director for a production of "Ramona" at the Mason Opera House in 1905 and performed songs publicly to help Lummis promote his Southwest music project.

Learn more about sounds of the Southwest.
Charles Lummis' Wax Cylinder Recordings

Despite her role in the musical life of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, García left little behind in the archive with the exception of the wax cylinder recordings. The few items related to García in the Lummis archive take up less than one linear foot (compared to 153.5 linear feet that make up his entire archive) and are featured in The Autry's current exhibit "What's Her Story: Women in the Archives." Related to the exhibit, a collective of artists and scholars found enough archival traces to create Versos y Besos, a project that aims to share García's story — "to liberate her from the archive." One of the team members Marissa López, historian for Picturing Mexican America, mapped out the biographical details of García's life from the family' home at 1115 S. Olive Street to her bookkeeping job at the Singer Sewing Machine company. Writer Amy Shimshon-Santo gave cadence to García's life in her biographical poem that she just recited as part of Metro's Mother's Day program at Union Station. The team published a series of essays and musical soundscapes titled "Versos y Besos: The Anthrophony of Manuela García" to ASAP Journal to explore the multi-layered legacy of García.

Versos del Alba lyrics from Manuela García's 1901 notebook. The lyrics are written in faded cursive handwriting on aged paper.
Versos del Alba lyrics from Manuela García's 1901 notebook, from the Charles Fletcher Lummis Collection. | Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection at the Autry Museum

Also part of the Versos y Besos team, musician Suzanne García (no relation) breathed life into Manuela García's words as director for the all-female mariachi group Las Colibrí. In an Autry panel in 2020, Suzanne García explained, "What brought it all together for me was figuring out the parallels in our lives and seeing how two women … growing up in Los Angeles from the very beginning with Mexican American roots, could have so many things in common and deeply rooted in music." A page in García's song journal resonated with the mariachi musician as the words resembled lyrics to the mariachi classic "El Sauce y La Palma," officially registered by Mexican musician Luis Pérez Meza in 1951. Suzanne García and the Las Colibrí perform this mariachi favorite using the words García wrote down over one hundred years ago. And this was, as Autry archivist Liza Posas said in an interview, "one of the best examples of how archives can connect people." By finding the archival breadcrumbs, these present-day artists are amplifying the voice of Manuela García as they draw creative inspiration from her archive.

A blue-tinted portrait of Manuela C. García. She's wearing a long sleeved blouse with a lace neck accessory. She looks to her left and stands in front of a thick tree branch.
Portrait of Manuela C. García photographed by Charles Lummis | Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection at the Autry Museum

Support Provided By
Read More
A view of the iconic landmark, the Bradbury Building, showing dark, ornamental grilling and brickwork and layers of stairs.

The Savvy Mexican Businesswoman Behind the Iconic Bradbury Building

While the building’s namesake Lewis Bradbury is often referenced in historical accounts, his wife Simona is rarely mentioned alongside him even though she oversaw his business affairs after his death, including the completion of the iconic Bradbury Building.
Photographic portrait of Mrs. Arcadia de Baker; previously Mrs. Abel Stearns, Arcadia Bandini, ca.1885. She can be seen from the waist up turned slightly to the left in an oval cutout. Her long dark hair is parted up the middle and pulled back to her neck. She is wearing a frilly shawl over a frilly dress with a low neckline.

The Powerful Mexican Woman Who Helped Shape Early Santa Monica

Arcadia Bandini Stearns de Baker was rich, beautiful and connected. This savvy businesswoman would be an important player in early California and helped shape Santa Monica and the west side of Los Angeles.
A black and white photo depicts a row of cabins are arranged in a line along a steep slope. Each one is affixed with screened porches.

They Built This City: How Labor Exploitation Built L.A.'s Attractions

In the early 1900s, Los Angeles’ temperate climate and natural attractions drew droves of tourists seeking an escape from crowded, industrial cities. But behind the pristine curtain of Mt. Lowe’s tourism industry was a harsh reality of labor exploitation that continues to disproportionately affect Los Angeles’ Latinx population today.