Thursday, June 13, 2024

NRR Project: 'Gregorio Cortez'


‘Gregorio Cortez’

Performed by Trovadores Regionales – Pedro Rocha, Lupe Martinez

October 1929


The corrido is a Mexican ballad, often in three-quarter time, that relates a narrative or describes an historical event. It is a genre that inflates mundane realities into legends, and makes heroes of common men. So it is with Gregorio Cortez.

He was born in 1875 in Mexico. When he was 14, his family moved to Texas, and Cortez began working as a cowboy and a farmhand. On June 14, 1901, Sheriff W.T. Morris and his deputy, who served as interpreter, came to interview Cortez and his brother regarding the theft of a horse. Due to mistranslation, the sheriff determined that the Cortezes were lying and declared his intent to arrest them.

Cortez’s brother ran at the sheriff and was shot several times. Cortez responded by shooting the sheriff dead. After taking his brother for medical attention, Cortez began his escape. For ten days, he traveled hundreds of miles by horse and on foot, evading over 300 lawmen deputized to bring him in. Finally captured, he was tried and sentenced for murder, but his sentence was commuted after a relatively short period of time.

This exploit made him a hero among Mexican-Americans, who saw him as a symbol of the fight against prejudice and malfeasance against them by the Anglo community. No fewer than eleven versions of “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” developed, each of them giving a slightly different perspective on his story. One common thread in these songs is the bemoaning of the unequal justice meted out to Mexican Americans.

The version preserved here is performed by a duo with guitar, singing simple harmonies. “Gregorio Cortez said, with his gun in his hand, ’I’m not sorry I killed him,’” they sing. “’I was only thinking of my brother.’”

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Lamento Borincano.



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