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Violeta Straley: A Singer Honors Her Own Dearly Departed

(Updated 10/​4/​12) If you happen to venture downstairs during the Autry’s ¡Vivan Los Muertos! event next week to see Luis Villanueva’s catrina altars — and you really, really should — stick around for the music.

Paul Straley (Photo courtesy Linda Straley)

Linda “Violeta” Straley will be singing the old standards.

Linda Straley will be one of the performers at “Vivan Los Muertos” (Photo by Tessie Borden)

We’re talking songs like “Sabor a Mí,” “Volver, Volver,” and “La Zandunga.” Don’t recognize the titles? If you’re Latino, you probably do. This is the music your parents grew up with, both north and south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

While Americans listened to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and even later when they turned on to Elvis and The Supremes and the Beach Boys, the songs drifting through Latino homes were ballads written by Álvaro Carrillo, Agustín Lara and Juan Zaízar.

“It’s definitely going to be different,” Straley said. “My mom will have a lot to say about how I’m supposed to sing it…. I’d better not mess it up because so many people know how this is supposed to sound.”

Straley, a recent Cal State Long Beach grad in sociology and Chicano studies who has been singing since she was a little girl, says she’s been marking Día de los Muertos, the Mexican celebration of All Souls Eve and All Souls Day, for several years, sometimes with a performance.

Violeta Straley performing at “Vivan los Muertos” 2011 (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

But this year, the holiday has special relevance for her. Straley’s father, Paul Straley, a technical writer with eclectic tastes, died of a heart attack on Sept. 11, 2009 after suffering several strokes. He was 67.

“He was a lover of language,” she said. “I always joked with my friends that he spoke Spanish better than I did sometimes…. I really feel like he is around with me all the time, supporting me. But also, if he were alive, he would just be so excited for me.”

And it’s because of her father that Straley chose these particular songs. Not because he was Mexican — actually, he was German American, and her mother is Mexican. But he was the one who fell in love with this music and communicated that love to his daughter.

“He always had a love for things that he didn’t know about,” she said. “He was extremely interested in history and language and music, and different kinds of music. I think part of the reason that I like music from around the world, and music that sometimes nobody knows about, is because of him.”

Straley, who has made a point of incorporating public service into her life through performances with the Agape International Spiritual Center choir, believes her two one-​hour sets on Oct. 30 will be more than just about singing.

“I’m connecting with my ancestors by doing this music,” she said. “How can I give the highest respect to this generation that’s going to really feel this music? … I’m just going to be there and I’m going to sing and I’m going to give it everything that I have, but it’s definitely something that’s bigger than me.”

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Autry Events · Behind-the-Scenes · Conversations

About the author

Tessie Borden is a former newspaper journalist. She writes about the arts in light of the cultural and political history of the Americas, the American West and California.