If there is such a thing as a star accordion player, Eva Ybarra is it. Recognized throughout the music industry as “squeeze-box royalty,” this Texas musician is one of very few women accordionists who have become professionals playing an instrument that has traditionally been dominated by men.
Early Musical Ability
Ms. Ybarra’s talents became evident at the tender age of four years old, when her migrant laborer musician parents presented her with a small accordion and watched her perform, by age six, along with them as they played cantinas, restaurants, and dance halls around San Antonio in order to earn extra money. Her parents were delighted that Eva thus had an alternative to working in the fields.
Mentors: Helping Hands on the Road to “Squeeze-Box Royalty”
Ybarra’s interest in music came naturally with her father and brothers playing music and her mother being a singer and songwriter. Another “teacher” was the Texas border radio that was filled with the sounds of the conjunto accordion. Her father, Pedro, accompanied her to performances and gave support and encouragement through her adult life, even though he was constantly reminded by his peers that playing conjunto accordion was not a “proper woman’s occupation” within the Tejano community.
By her late teens, Eva had mastered the instrument and also showed her creativity by writing most of the songs on her albums, A Mi San Antonio in 1994 and Romance Inolvidable in 1996. In 1997 she became a visiting artist in the Ethnomusicology Department at the University of Washington.
Most of Ybarra’s original and emotional instrumental compositions expand on waltzes, rancheras, baladas, huapangos and cumbias, and the improvised typical polka melody brought to the highest form by Tony de la Rosa, the conjunto accordion pioneer in the late 1950s.
Today, Eva teaches at Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, works on various projects with Smithsonian Folklife, and has been admired as she appeared at numerous U.S. and Europe events such as the International Accordion Festival on September 13, 2014, which was held in scenic downtown San Antonio, the birthplace and hub for Tejano accordion conjunto music. Conjunto draws on European and Latin American influences and rhythms, but is actually an American musical genre.
The free International Accordion Festival is a premier event in the Southwest and is a chance to show that the accordion is the perfect vehicle through which to tell the story of immigrant America. The accordion is at the root of many multicultural music traditions throughout the world, and we salute Eva Ybarra for her achievements in the medium.