In regional Mexican music, Pepe Guízar has often been fondly referred to as El Pintor Musical de México -- the Musical Painter of Mexico -- and that is an appropriate name for the late composer because many of his songs vividly paint musical pictures of his country. Guízar (who was also an actor, singer, and pianist but was a songwriter above all else) is best remembered for "Guadalajara," a Mexican standard that paid tribute to his home town of Guadalajara, Jalisco. But Guízar not only wrote about the Mexican state of Jalisco -- he wrote about Mexico in general, and his songs really did bring Mexico to life as effectively as the country's best painters. In Guadalajara (the second largest city in Mexico), an outdoor plaza has been named after Guízar; la Plaza de los Mariachis (which bilingual Latinos refer to as Mariachi Square in English) includes a plaque in honor of Guízar as well as a brass bust of mariachi star Silvestre Vargas (who founded the legendary Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán -- one of Guízar's main influences -- in the late 1890s).
Guízar was born José Guízar Morfín in Guadalajara, Jalisco, on January 12, 1912. His musical career started taking off around 1937, when he wrote the famous "Guadalajara." Over the years, "Guadalajara" has been recorded countless times -- usually by traditional Mexican mariachi and ranchera artists, although it can also lend itself to a norteño or banda setting. And the song was even performed by Elvis Presley in Paramount's 1963 movie Fun in Acapulco (which starred the late rock & roller as a singing lifeguard at a Mexican beach resort). Guízar wrote many other great songs celebrating Mexican culture, including "Chapala" (another ode to a Jalisco location), "Como México No Hay Dos" (which translates to "There's No Place Like Mexico"), and "El Mariachi." Not all of Guízar's songs had a specifically Mexican theme; for example, "Sin Ti" ("Without You") is a love song that could just as easily be describing a romantic longing in Bolivia, Spain, or Puerto Rico. But while Mexican themes didn't account for 100 percent of Guízar's lyrics, they accounted for many of them.
Along the way, Guízar appeared in various films. English-speaking audiences saw him perform in the 1940 musical Down Argentine Way (starring Betty Grable, Don Ameche, and Carmen Miranda), and fans of Spanish-language movies associate Guízar with 1947's Una Gitana en Jalisco (A Gypsy in Jalisco), 1950's El Ciclón del Caribe (The Cyclone of the Caribbean), and 1951's La Reina del Mambo (The Mambo Queen). Guízar was 68 when he passed away in Mexico City on September 27, 1980; the Mexican icon would have turned 93 on January 12, 2005. ~ Alex Henderson