Texas State University devotes exhibit to San Antonio’s First Lady of Song

Beloved career of Rosita Fernandez spanned several decades

SAN MARCOS, Texas – Three generations of family had their first look at the Texas State University exhibit devoted to San Antonio’s First Lady of Song, a title bestowed by another first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, to Rosita Fernandez.

"Rosita didn't need to leave San Antonio. They came to her," said Ramon Hernandez, a music journalist and historian who curated the exhibit with much of the memorabilia given to him by Fernandez, herself.

"I'm privileged and honored that I was able to acquire this collection," Hernandez said.

Hernandez was there as Diana Rosa Almaguer-Orellana, Fernandez's only daughter, saw the exhibit along with her son, Mario Orellana, Fernandez's grandson, and his 4-year-old daughter, Sonoma, Fernandez's great-grandaughter, who Fernandez did not live to see.

"This is safe and well-kept, and appreciated, more than anything, appreciated," Almaguer-Orellana said.

The exhibit, on display through June 25, is among others at the Witliff Collections that include Willie Nelson, San Antonio author Sandra Cisneros and its well-known "Lonesome Dove" movie memorabilia.

Seeing what Hernandez gathered for his tribute, including her signature red dress, brought back "so many memories," Almaguer-Orellana said.

She recalled helping her mother and grandmother patiently adorn the dresses.

"My grandmother sat for hours and did each sequin and bead, one by one," Almaguer-Orellana said.

The dress also made an impression on Fernandez's great-granddaughter, who asked her father, "Whose red dress?"

"That's my momma's dress," Almaguer-Orellana told her. "Isn't it pretty?"

Orellana had a more humorous recollection of his grandmother.

Besides being a beloved singer and actress, he said Fernandez made "really great mole," a favorite Mexican dish.

"When I went out on my own, she was the one who brought me Tupperware filled with mole!" he said.

But Orellana said before she became an international celebrity, his grandmother experienced racism.

"She used to perform in restaurants where she wasn't allowed to eat," he said. "That makes you proud of who you are and where you've been."

Orellana, a KSAT 12 News executive producer, said he proposed to his wife on Rosita's Bridge, which was dedicated at the Arneson River Theater in his grandmother's honor.

Fernandez performed there for years during Fiesta Noche del Rio.

Watching her family take in the exhibit he curated, Hernandez said, "I hope she'd be proud. I'm trying to perpetuate her memory."

Hernandez and the Fernandez's family hope her story of struggle and triumph will inspire future generations of talent.

"She conquered the music industry in Texas when it was almost 98 percent male-dominated, " Hernandez said.

"I really learned how much she meant to San Antonio and the world of music," Orellana said.


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About the Author

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

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