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Los Lobos founding member Francisco González has died at 68

Francisco González, a founding member of Los Lobos, playing the Mexican harp
Jazz Video Guy / Youtube
Francisco González, a founding member of Los Lobos, playing the Mexican harp

Francisco González, a founding member of Los Lobos, has died. He was 68.

In the early 1970s, González joined fellow musicians Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Conrad Lozano to form one of East LA's most eclectic bands.

Los Lobos paid tribute to González on its Instagram page.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our brother and founding member, Francisco González. He, along with Cesar, started the group in 1973 for the purpose of 'playing Mexican music for our mothers,' as he always put it. Francisco was a brilliant musician, and after leaving the group in 1976 to follow a different musical path, he went on to master the Veracruz harp, then became the musical director of El Teatro Campesino theatre group—always shining across a lifetime of accomplishments."

González had cancer, according to media outlets citing his son as the source.

Los Lobos created a sound that blended all of the styles they loved: "rock-and-roll and R&B, surf music and soul, mariachi and música norteña, punk rock and country," as self-described on their website. "Chicano hippies playing mariachi music," is what NPR's Felix Contreras thought when he first saw Los Lobos in the mid-1970s.

With his bandito-esque mustache, González sang and played mandolin. After leaving Los Lobos, he mastered the Mexican harp, an instrument he'd loved listening to when he was a little boy. When his album The Gift was released in 2009, González told the Jazz Video Guy he never dreamed he would actually play the harp: "I also wanted to fly like Superman. I knew I couldn't do that either. It was that far away from my reality. But I loved that stuff. I really loved it."

The youngest of seven children, González was raised in a musical family. "My father had been a professional singer, a trained singer," González told Chris Morris for his book Los Lobos: Dream in Blue, "I have posters of him doing some zarzuela [Spanish opera] at theaters in downtown L.A. during the '40s."

González became music director of Teatro Campesino, taught Chicano theater, and helped establish Guadalupe Custom Strings to sell high quality strings for Latin folk instruments. The shop posted on its Instagram, "Rest in peace, Maestro Francisco. East L.A. loves you."

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.