Though he was born in Ameca, Jalisco, Mario de Santiago Miranda- better known as Mario Santiago- considers the village of Guachinango, Jalisco his hometown. It was there he grew up and where his father, Castulo de Santiago, taught him to play the five-string
guitarron, before that instrument was supplanted by the modern six-string version. In 1945, after playing guitarron in his father’s mariachi for three years, young Mario switched to trumpet. A year later, he spent a year with a mariachi in Nayarit. After that, he spent two years with a mariachi in Torreon, Coahuila that frequently accompanied Miguel Aceves Mejia. One-year stints in the cities of Juarez and Chihuahua followed. By the early 1950s Mario was known throughout Mexico’s northern states as an accomplished mariachi trumpet player.
When Miguel Martinez left Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan in late 1951, the group found itself without a trumpeter. Miguel Aceves Mejia recommended Mario Santiago to Silvestre Vargas, and on January 1, 1952 – at the height of mariachi music’s golden era- Mario Santiago joined the band. During the next two years he would travel widely, make hundreds of recordings, and appear in nearly a dozen films as trumpet player with Mariachi Vargas.
While on a US tour with Mariachi Vargas in late 1953, Mario developed serious embouchure problems. By the time they returned to Mexico, he was virtually unable to play trumpet, and found it necessary to resign from the group. Miguel Martinez returned to Mariachi Vargas soon afterward, and Mario began studying the violin and developing his singing. Using those skills, he was able to find work with other groups.
The demand for mariachis was so great in the 1950s that Silvestre Vargas organized a second group, Mariachi Guadalajara de Silvestre Vargas. In 1956, he invited Mario to join that ensemble. Two years after that, Mario re-joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, this time as a violinist and vocalist, where he remained for the next four decades until his retirement in 1999. His distinctive voice can be heard on countless Mariachi Vargas albums, as well as singing harmony to vocalists like Jose Alfredo Jimenez.
Mario Santiago has never been a bandleader, arranger, composer, or musical director. What he exemplifies is the quintessential rank and file mariachi musician- the kind of elemento who forms the backbone of every successful mariachi group. His solid accomplishments and untiring dedication to mariachi music over the course of half a century have earned Don Mario a much-deserved place in Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque’s venerable Hall of Fame.