Remembering Laura Sobrino (1954–2015)

Laura Garciacano Sobrino was one of the earliest professional female mariachi musicians in the United States. The multiple contributions this Watsonville, California native made to mariachi music include those of performer, educator, researcher, and group organizer.

Trained as a classical violinist, Laura’s involvement in mariachi music began in 1975, after she enrolled in a Music of Mexico class taught by ethnomusicologist Dr. David Kilpatrick at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Research for her undergraduate thesis on the mariachi violin took Laura to Southern California, where she performed with Mariachi Uclatlán in 1977–78. From 1979–82 she played with her first high-profile show group, Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey.

In 1986 Laura became a founding member of Mariachi Sol de México, where she worked until co-founding Mario Rodríguez’s Mariachi Imperial de México in 1989. In 1994, under the direction of José Hernández, she became a founding member and the coordinator of Mariachi Reyna de Los Ángeles. In 1998 she joined Juan Manuel Macias’s Mariachi Los Palmeros, and in 1999 she became a a founding member and the musical director of what would be her last group, Mariachi Mujer 2000 de Marisa Orduño.

In addition to teaching privately and giving workshops at mariachi festivals around the country, Laura taught in over a dozen high schools, colleges, and community programs over the years. She published educational material with Mel Bay Publications, Southern Music Company, and her own Mariachi Publishing Company.

Laura had a special interest in female participation within mariachi groups. In 1998 she and Dr. Leonor Xóchitl Pérez launched a website on the History of Women in Mariachi Music that remained online until 2013. On a 2007 trip to Mexico City, Laura met a number of Mexico’s pioneer female mariachi musicians who had belonged to different all-female ensembles over the years. Banding these women together, she organized Mariachi Las Pioneras, a group she took on tour to the United States. In conjunction with Dr. Pérez and Nancy Muñoz, Laura helped organize a museum exhibit on the mariachi femenino and founded the current website Mujeres en el Mariachi.

In 2008 Laura was diagnosed with the fatal autoimmune disease scleroderma. Notwithstanding, that same year she performed with Mariachi Mujer 2000 at the Beijing, China Summer Olympics. Unstoppable until the very end, she continued performing and teaching until the final months of her life. Upon her passing on May 21, 2015, hundreds of mariachi musicians gathered in Los Angeles to pay their last respects to Laura in what was possibly the most widely-attended funeral of any U.S.-born mariachi musician.

This year, Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque proudly inducts pioneer Laura Garciacano Sobrino into its prestigious Mariachi Hall of Fame. Her memory lives on in the hearts of all who knew her.

— Jonathan Clark