The process of bestowing awards on recipients worthy of being duly honored has been proliferating since the advent of visually accessed media. The most prestigious include those bestowed for notable accomplishments in writing, acting, singing, broadcasting, scientific achievements, peace, and more. They include the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Oscars, Grammys, Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and, as the years roll on, many others. It is probably a truism to note that most participants in any of the above mentioned categories (as well as in many others too numerous to mention) dreamed of being a winner in their chosen fields from day one of their pursuit of excellence and, of course, the concomitant fame that would follow. It is also true that, for those who eventually achieved their goals, the path followed to their pinnacle was usually a long and winding road.
Fifteen years ago Cindy Shea, a blond blue-eyed trumpet player, and her friend & fellow musician, Nelly Cortez, were hanging out together in Southern California. As Nelly recounted “Cindy and I had met when she was invited to play for an all-female mariachi called ‘Las Alondras’ (The Skylarks) at a Hollywood Bowl concert. She agreed and she liked it. She decided to do other shows with Alondras but, soon thereafter, the leader of the group moved to another state and there was no maestra. Cindy decided that she could handle it and took over the reins. We decided that the name needed to be changed to something catchy.”
“Cindy and I were talking about this while watching TV one night when all of a sudden a really attention-grabbing commercial came on featuring ‘The Skating Divas.’ We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said ‘How about The Mariachi Divas?’ The conversation that followed sealed the deal as we both agreed that Divas was a great name and that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, could pronounce it with ease. In 1998, The Mariachi Divas were born.”
Nelly was part of The Divas until 2006, when she entered flight school with the goal of becoming a pilot for the California Highway Patrol. She and Cindy continue to be good friends: she will never forget the good times with the group. She wanted to be sure that we reminded Cindy of the confident prediction that she made back in the day. Nelly assured us that the following words from Cindy were verbatim so perhaps we can add ‘prophet’ to her other job descriptions. “It usually takes a group about ten years to win a Grammy.”
Fast forward to 2013. Since winning their first Grammy back in 2009, The Divas had racked up five additional nominations. Cindy’s professional collaboration with her brilliant Musical Director, Alberto ‘Beto’ Jimenez (who had held the position of Musical Director for Mexico’s fabulous Mariachi de America for twenty years before moving to the United States) began in 2005 and had now blossomed into a personal partnership. Their marriage had produced not only award-winning music but a beautiful son, Tony, as well. However before all that happened, it was another propitious coincidence that propelled The Divas on their accelerating path to success.
In 1999, Disneyland’s management was searching for a way to increase attendance at their Southern California facilities. Stan Freese, the Director of Music for all the Disney properties worldwide, contacted one of his sons for recommendations. Jason Freese, one of the original founders of the critically acclaimed rock group Green Day (along with Billy Joe Armstrong), had attended college with Cindy. He suggested that an all-female mariachi group might be just the attraction his father needed. Stan set up an audition for the newly named Mariachi Divas. He was impressed enough by what he saw and heard to offer them a one-week contract. The Divas and Disneyland recently (January 22nd, 2014) celebrated their fifteen year anniversary of Cindy’s group being named the Official Mariachi of Disneyland.
When the Divas won their first Grammy back in 2009, they became the first female group to achieve this honor but Cindy never let her success get in the way of giving back to others. In early 2010, she graciously accepted an offer to be the headliner for the initial event in a small northern Baja resort town which would totally benefit the area’s newly formed Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to her group’s appearance at the concert, the centerpiece of a weekend event held at the iconic Rosarito Beach Hotel, a significant profit was turned and an altruistic relationship was forged between the parties involved.
In 2013, to honor the annual fundraiser, Beto and his songwriting partner Ismael Gallegos, wrote a song that would be part of The Divas ninth CD, ‘A Mi Manera.’ It was titled ‘Rosarito’ and the video created to accompany the music became something of a sensation. When the nominations were announced for the Grammy category ‘Best Mexican Regional Music,’ it was no surprise that this collaboration, including the city’s anthem, was named as one of the year’s five nominees.
On Sunday, January 26th, 2014 everyone emotionally involved held their breath when the winners were announced. The joy was international as the Divas came onstage to become the only all-female mariachi group in history to win (not only one but also) a second Grammy for their musical excellence. When Cindy, in her acceptance speech, personally thanked Rosarito Beach for their ‘inspiration’, it was, for many local residents, a dream come true.
Cindy has already mentioned setting up a fundraiser in May or June before The Divas annual appearance at this year’s (2014) Fifth Anniversary Rosarito Beach International Mariachi & Folklorico Festival which will once again also feature el mejor del mundo, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan. The multiple Grammy award-winning Beto will also be leading his sensational Mariachi Espectacular and, in an interesting twist of fate, the Latin Grammy nominated Trio Ellas, featuring Suemy Gonzalez, Stephanie Amaro, and Nelly Cortez…Cindy’s friend who was there back in 1998 when The Mariachi Divas were officially named and the prognostication for a Grammy Award-winning future was announced…will also be performing.
It doesn’t get any better than this! For all the information about the now five day event, stretching from October 1st-5th…the Talleres, the Mariachi Film Festival, the Student Showcase, the two Concerts, the Competencias…please visit: www.rosaritobeachmariachifolkloricofestival.com