Santa Fe’s legendary maestro, Antonio Mendoza, passed away on April 27th of natural causes at the age of 89. For more than half a century the classical guitarist shared his love of the music of Spain and Mexico with the community of Santa Fe. Mendoza performed at the Hotel Santa Fe to the delight of visitors and locals. During these performances Mendoza often switched between 15 of his custom-made guitars. His favorite type of wood was from the Spanish cypress tree, which Mendoza hand-carried from Spain to have his guitars made locally.
Antonio Mendoza was born in 1931 at the railroad station in Ignacio Allende in the state of Durango, Mexico, his first cradle was bench and a sack of straw. His father was a Huichol Indian, so the infant was given the name Xmatori. It wasn’t until a few years later that he was given a Spanish name. His parents Juan Mendoza and Victoria Guzmanstein, encouraged their young son to follow his dreams. When Mendoza was three years of age his ear for music was forming as he listened to his mother play the piano, violin and mandolin. By the time that he was seven Mendoza was proficient at playing the mandolin, the perfect instrument for him at the time because his hands were so small. Once he mastered the mandolin, Mendoza graduated to the violin and finally the guitar, the instrument that propelled his journey in the music world.
Mendoza received his classical training in the 1950s at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música de México. The musician credited Guillermo Flores Mendez for his mentorship at the conservatory in Mexico City. Later, Mendoza studied in Spain at the Real Conservatorio Superior Música de Madrid with the maestro Pedro Moreno. In the 1950s Mendoza’s reputation as a classical guitarist was gaining recognition outside of Mexico. At one of his gigs the owners of the Sage Inn in Taos were in the audience and invited him to come to New Mexico and entertain at their establishment. It was in Taos that Mendoza discovered his second calling in life as a painter.
Mendoza moved to Santa Fe in the 1960s where he opened an art studio, continued to perform locally and used Santa Fe as his home base as he traveled for work. His worldwide performances included performances with major recording stars like the late Rosemary Clooney, to performing with classical guitarists at the Querini Stampalia in Venice where the Pope often presides at mass.
Antonio called me in early April to check up on me to see how I was doing through the Covid-19 lockdown. He sounded fine and was getting ready to move into a new house with his wife Judy. Antonio said that he was anxious for the pandemic to be over so that he could go back to performing. Antonio’s absence will be greatly felt for all of us in Santa Fe who had the good fortune to see him perform regularly and knew him as a friend.