Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto Siempre
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Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto Siempre

San Antonio, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1960

San Antonio, Texas, United States
Established on Jan, 1960
Band Folk Latin




"The "Queen of the Accordion" is Still Forging Her Own Path"

Eva Ybarra plays her accordion with such passion that it can feel like fury. Smashing the instrument’s buttons and stretching her arms out wide, then quickly contracting, Ybarra bends air to produce rich vibrations of sound. One of her original ballads, “El Eco De Mi Voz,” is a booming, dramatic affair: When she starts to sing, in her low, thunderous belt, the music is all the more powerful. Sometimes, she weeps as she plays. She’s mostly been practicing in her apartment since the pandemic began; here, the sound blossoms against the walls. “The neighbors like it,” she laughs. Perhaps they dance to Ybarra’s songs in their living rooms.

Known as La Reina del Acordeón, or the “Queen of the Accordion,” Eva Ybarra was named the 2022 Texas State Musician in May. She is widely considered the best female accordionist playing in Texas today—a title she increasingly resents. Why not just one of the best accordionists, period? A longtime leader of her band, Eva Ybarra Y Su Conjunto, she has been carrying around her instrument since she was 4 years old, started performing in restaurants at the age of 6, and scored her first record deal when she was 14. Yet despite her lengthy and critically acclaimed career, Ybarra says she has spent decades overlooked and alienated within a male-dominated genre.

While Ybarra has been adored by critics for years, she has historically been snubbed by recording studios, festivals, and venues, often shut out of the San Antonio music scene and broadly unrecognized outside the city. More recently, formal awards have been flooding in: In 2017, she was a National Heritage Fellow through the National Endowment for the Arts. She has been inducted into several Tejano music halls of fame and included in museum exhibits. Yet this has all come later in her life, and her most recent honor comes through with no money or work attached. “It’s been a hard, long road,” she says. “It’s been very difficult to make my living.”

One of nine children, Ybarra was raised in a musical family on San Antonio’s West Side. She asked her parents for an accordion after hearing her older brother play, then taught herself by following along to the most popular hits of the day. Her siblings still join her to make music: Her brother David Ybarra played in her ensemble for decades, and her sister has written gospel songs for them to perform. As a child performer, she dressed in homemade cowgirl outfits and stood on beer crates to reach the microphone; the San Antonio Express-News has described her in those days as a “conjunto Shirley Temple.”

The conjunto genre, rooted in the Texas-Mexico borderlands, was born in the late 19th century. Historians debate whether Tejanos were introduced to the accordion by way of the north, by German, Polish, and Czech immigrants who brought the instrument to central and South Texas, or from the south, through Monterrey, Mexico, where salon music and dances characterized by Italian opera singing and Czech polkas were surging in popularity. According to Tejano music scholar Manuel Peña, from the moment of the accordion’s arrival in Texas, it became part of the folk music of working-class Mexican Americans. Conjunto bands, inspired by the button accordion and the bajo sexto, came together to play on festive occasions and in Mexican American dance halls.

Ybarra’s mother discouraged her from taking up the accordion, correctly intuiting that it would anger male accordionists, who generally dominate conjunto music. This path hasn’t always been safe, Ybarra says. She tells stories of how men, jealous and offended, regularly threatened her at gigs, followed her, and cornered her after shows. Once, when she was invited to perform in Puerto Rico in her twenties, her mother forbade her from going. She felt her daughter’s success could grow to be dangerous. “I’m your daughter, but I belong to the people,” Ybarra replied. She made the trip to Puerto Rico, but when she got there, Ybarra says she was assaulted by the hotel manager who came to her room and tried to rape her. Finally, he let her go. Ybarra also spoke of “killings, shootings, free-for-alls” she experienced playing in cantinas and dance halls. “My parents never knew… I never told them, because I loved music and didn’t want them to tell me to stop.”

Ybarra is emphatic about sharing, rather than silencing, these stories. For her, it’s a passing down of knowledge, a warning about how the world is. “I don’t hide nothing,” she says. “I wanted my story out there, so young ladies can take care of themselves.”

The main story that her bandmates and her family tell is this: Ybarra is a brilliant figure, and she has been criminally overlooked. A true virtuoso of her craft, she writes original lyrics, especially for corridos, or ballads, but toying with instrumentation is her true modus operandi. The accordionist is not unlike a jazz musician; Improvisation is part of the performance. She’s experimental, often playing in a progressive style. Ybarra plays fourteen instruments total, including bajo sexto, the 12-string Mexican guitar that accompanies the accordion in conjunto music; piano; violin; and electric bass. She is also a force on the guitarrón when she performs in mariachi bands, even though the big guitar threatens to eclipse her, as she stands just above 5 feet tall.

Despite the recent spike in recognition, the queen of the accordion is one of those brilliant artists with profound talent who is just scraping by. While some states offer strong grant funding for recognized folk artists, Texas arts funding has long been dismal. Ybarra still plays mariachi at San Antonio restaurants for tips, and her house was foreclosed upon in 2015.

If Ybarra doesn’t get the glory, or the economic stability, that the most successful men in conjunto have, maybe future generations of female conjunto musicians will. She already has disciples, such as Iliana Vasquez, an apprentice of Ybarra who plays accordion and bajo sexto. “She’s leaving me her legacy,” Vasquez says. “Her knowledge is gold, it’s precious and it’s priceless.” Vasquez, who hopes to learn to teach this music herself, says recently more conjunto education programs have been introduced in the Rio Grande Valley, where she lives.

The queen has no plans to stop performing, either. “I will never give up until God takes me with him,” she declares. “Upstairs, I’m going to play there too. I’m going to ask God, I still want to play.” - Texas Observer

"Two San Antonians, Jennifer Ling Datchuk and Eva Ybarra, honored as Texas state artists"

Two San Antonians are among a new group of artists honored by the Texas Legislature. Visual artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk has been appointed Texas State Three-Dimensional Artist for 2021, and accordionist Eva Ybarra will be the Texas State Musician for 2022.

Datchuk and Ybarra join six other Texas artists as state appointees, and are now among a growing list of poets, visual artists, and musicians honored by the state.

Ybarra, known as “the Queen of the Accordion,” joins San Antonio musicians George Strait and Flaco Jimenez to be so designated, and Datchuk joins sculptors Bill FitzGibbons and Ken Little, who received recognition in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

An Ohio native, Datchuk said that when she first learned of her nomination she wasn’t sure what the designation meant, but when she saw “the caliber of names and practices I deeply admire on that list, I felt honored to just be nominated and recognized by a community of artist peers.”

She acknowledged that to receive such a designation hasn’t yet sunk in.

“I haven’t caught up to it because I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to receive these really well-established and recognized awards, but that has only happened within the past two years of my practice, so I’m still shocked,” she said.

Datchuk, head of the ceramics department at Texas State University, was named a 2020 United States Artists fellow. Ybarra is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow and has been inducted into several conjunto music halls of fame.

The artists are generally not aware of who has nominated them to become Texas state artists, but Ybarra said she recognizes the efforts of her bajo sexto student Iliana Vasquez on her behalf. Vasquez told her that she made the nomination because she believed Ybarra belonged in the same category as Strait and other well-recognized male singers, Ybarra said.

Ybarra said that when she and Vasquez learned she’d be named Texas State Musician, “she cried, and I cried, and we cried together.”

Ybarra also thanked her Conjunto Siempre bandmates, in particular her assistant and vocalist Sandy Rodriguez. Datchuk thanked her spouse Ryan Takaba, an accomplished sculptor who first brought her to Texas 10 years ago.

“I feel I’ve really fully matured and developed as an artist while living in San Antonio and Texas, and it’s been a lot of Texas-based institutions and curators and a community that has really helped me be at this place in my career,” she said. “I feel nurtured by my community and my community foundation is in Texas.”

The Texas Legislature convenes every two years and among its statutory duties are to name state poets laureate, two- and three-dimensional visual artists, and musicians.

Any Texan can submit nominations for the three posts during a biennial open call, and nominations are considered by panels of experts in related fields. Their top 10 selections are forwarded to appointees of the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house, who make the final selections for the current legislative year and the following year.

The Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) manages the nominations process. Anina Moore, TCA director of artist services and communications, said that while the artists do not receive a monetary award, and thus are given no specific duties to fulfill their roles, designating state artists serves multiple purposes.

“We hope all the artists consider it to be a huge honor and recognition,” Moore said.

“We hope it also helps legislators feel confident about the variety and quality of artists practicing their art forms all across the state. There are many different ways that this recognition helps promote the arts” in Texas.

Though the designees weren’t able to travel to Austin for the usual public ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ybarra said she still celebrated in her own way.

“No celebration over there,” Ybarra said. “But in my heart, yes.” - San Antonio Report

"Conjunto musician Eva Ybarra receives top NEA honor"

Eva Ybarra, the undisputed grand dame of the conjunto accordion, is among the nine recipients of the 2017 National Heritage Fellowship presented by the National Endowment of the Arts.

The fellowship, announced Tuesday, is the United States’ highest honor for a folk musician or traditional artist. Each will receive a $25,000 prize and be honored in Washington, D.C., in September.

“I’m in tears. I can’t believe it,” Ybarra said from her South Side apartment. “I just want to thank all my fans, everybody. I’m so honored.”

Ybarra’s career has spanned nearly seven decades.

Known for her crying, passionate and dramatic singing, she began as a child performer in the early 1950s. Back then, she played for small change in homemade cowgirl outfits, holding her two-row button accordion and standing on beer crates to reach the microphone, like a conjunto Shirley Temple. The teenage Flaco Jimenez sometimes accompanied her.

Other recipients of the 2017 National Heritage Fellowship are repoussé artist Norik Astvatsaturo; Chilkat weaver Anna Brown Ehlers; bomba and plena musician Modesto Cepeda; children’s folk singer and musician Ella Jenkins; Danish button accordionist and Missouri-style fiddler Dwight Lamb; old-time buckdancer Thomas Maupin; Hawaiian slack key guitarist Cyril Pahinui; and acoustic blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins.

Conjunto festival promoter, educator and musician Juan Tejeda nominated Ybarra last summer, describing her as La Reina de Conjunto (The Queen of Conjunto) in his letter.

“She deserves it,” Tejeda said. “Undoubtedly, she is the best female accordionist in the history of conjunto music.”

Ybarra is not the first San Antonio conjunto musician to receive the honor. Other recipients include Lydia Mendoza, Flaco Jimenez, Santiago Jimenez Jr. and Mingo Saldivar.

She’s been inducted into various conjunto music hall of fames, played important music festivals and been included in museum exhibits. There’s even a play about her life. But her career has been a struggle with a lot of hard knocks. Along with the traditional gigs, Ybarra still works a thankless circuit of restaurants for tips, a practice known as “kitty-catting.” Chicano musicians know it as “El Talon.”

Her mother never wanted her to play the accordion.

“I think this time, my mom is very happy,” Ybarra said. “This is what I was born to be.”

hsaldana@express-news.net - My San Antonio

"Eva Ybarra, The Accordion Queen, Was Born to Play"

Not much has come easily for Eva Ybarra, except playing music. Since getting her start as a young girl in San Antonio icehouses in the 1950s, the accordionist has carved out a lasting career with her progressive style and forceful singing. Today, Ybarra is recognized as one of conjunto’s most accomplished players—despite the vagaries of the music business and the headwinds of macho chauvinism—and is known by the esteemed nickname, La Reina del Acordeón (the queen of the accordion).

Ybarra made her first recordings as a teenager and worked the San Antonio conjunto circuit for years—often wearing a cowboy hat and holster on stage—winning over fans and escaping from more than a few tight spots, such as the bar brawls, spiked drinks, and attempted assaults that she recounts in her song “La Historia de mi Vida.” The fifth of nine children, Ybarra lives in an apartment not far from the southwestern San Antonio house where her mother and father, a truck driver, raised their kids and played music on nights and weekends.

“Ybarra went where few women dared, she ventured into the male-dominated ranks of conjunto,” says Ramón Hernández, a musicologist who included Ybarra in his Legends of Tejano exhibit, which is on display through Dec. 20 at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. “She is famous for being a pioneer, helping set the mold as an example and opening the doors for other female accordionists.”

Ybarra has won numerous honors over the years, including induction into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame, and this summer, she was recognized with one of the nation’s top awards for a folk artist, a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. Still, Ybarra performs only periodically with her group, Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto, mostly at festivals, and she sometimes plays with mariachis at local restaurants to make ends meet. She also teaches weekly accordion classes at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio.

Q:You grew up in a musical household?

A: I remember sleeping in the crib, and my dad was playing the guitar with my brother and some other guys in the living room. I woke up hearing the music, and I went to the living room. They told me to go back to sleep, but I didn’t sleep. I was looking through the keyhole because I wanted to watch them.

Q: How did you get started on accordion?

A: I started with a two-row accordion at 4 years old. At 6 I was playing here and there, at icehouses, supporting my parents. They sat me on plastic crates because I was too small and couldn’t reach the floor. I was very little.

Q: How did you develop your personal style of accordion playing?

A: This is the thing: I didn’t want to copy anybody. I wanted to have my own style. I can copy if I want to, but I want-ed to cross over. And I did, because my songs are played in Germany, Australia, Canada. I learned a little bit of music theory—inverted chords, pentatonics, and chromatic scale—that makes me a little bit different. I like to play a little blues. I wrote a huapango called “Huapan-blues,” and I have one called “Huapan-jazz.” Sometimes people don’t like it. They like more traditional. But I’m not that. You don’t have to like it. If there are 10 people that like it, and one that doesn’t like it, I’m winning.

Q: How did you get the nickname La Reina del Acordeón?

A: It wasn’t me. They could call me Eva Ybarra the humble, the criminal, the killer, the monster. But La Reina del Acordeón, the people give me that name. And I appreciate it.

Q: What’s it like being a woman in conjunto music?

A: It’s not too easy for me. I struggle a lot because there’s a lot of envy. They don’t want to see a lady being the leader of the band or making arrangements or making songs. They don’t like it. There are a lot of guys that say, “I’m afraid to play in front of you.” They get intimidated, and they say, “Eva Ybarra is coming? I don’t want to play after her.”

Q: Where do you like to perform in Texas?

A: I’ve been in Corpus Christi, Austin, the Valley. They appreciate the music. San Antonio does too. I love San Benito. I wrote a song called “Mi Querido San Benito.” They enjoy and appreciate our music, and I wrote it for them. I like every town, and every town I go I want to stay. But no, San Antonio is my hometown, and I wouldn’t change it.

Q: What places do you like to take visitors in San Antonio?

A: I like las misiónes, the missions, the Alamo. I love that everything there is historical.

Q: What are your favorite San Antonio restaurants?

A: Mi Tierra, La Fogata, Jacale, Los Barrios; and El Golfo is a good one too. What I like is the campechana [a seafood cocktail] with shrimp, fish, avocado, lobster, and lemon. I like Chinese food and the Golden Star on Commerce. After playing with the mariachis, we go and eat over there, and sometimes I order the fish and gravy.

Q: Have you seen more young women playing conjunto music?

A: There are a lot of young accordionists that are good. But I opened the doors for them. Sometimes they don’t understand that, but like I say, I’m the pioneer. I opened the door.

Q: Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto has been your band ever since you were a teen?

A: Yes, but now we call it Eva Ybarra y su Conjunto Siempre para Ustedes. That’s the way it’s going to be: forever for the people. Without the people, we’re nothing. I love music; it’s in my body. Like I always say, if I stop playing, I think I will die. And I’m still going to play with God.

From the October 2017 issue - Texas Highways

"Accordion to Eva"

Eva Ybarra is willpower personified, with the added benefit of pure talent. She is an underdog champion. She is a role model for females. She is tough and relentless and a free spirit. She is the people’s Reina del Acordeón, or Queen of the Accordion, though the title is a bit sexist considering many regard her on par with the brothers Jiménez, Flaco and Santiago Jr., as well as Esteban “Steve” Jordan and Mingo Saldivar, in the pantheon of Texas conjunto accordionists. On Tuesday, she will perform at the Briscoe Western Art Museum for the second part of “Sounds of the West,” a three-part series in its inaugural year.

Ybarra grew up in south San Antonio and began playing a two-row accordion at age four. Her immediate and extended family, a mix of Spanish, German, and Mexican ancestry, played a full range of instruments. Music was in her blood. She taught herself by listening to the radio. She didn’t have any instructors; her ear was all she needed. When she heard popular songs like “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” made famous by Perry Como, she immediately understood the melodies, the buttons, the notes. By the time she was six, she was playing at bars and restaurants. “I was making more money than now,” Ybarra jokes. But once she reached nine years old, she faced opposition from some in her family.

“My mom didn’t want me to play the accordion,” Ybarra says. “She wanted me to play the piano. She bought me a piano and took me to piano lessons—to read music. My mom said, ‘I want you to learn the right way, not just by ear.’ I don’t want you to play the accordion because you’re going to hurt yourself. I guess she thought it was a man’s instrument.”

Fortunately, Ybarra’s father pulled her aside and encouraged her. He said, “Don’t listen to your mom,” Ybarra recounts. “The key for you is the accordion. That’s your key. You don’t have any competition, Eva.”

As a teenager in the early sixties, Ybarra became a recording artist and a bandleader, cutting 45s for Rosina Records, in San Marcos, and gigging throughout the state as Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto. Her dad was her manager in the early days. But as she got older, Ybarra called the shots and was met with another round of opposition, this time from male musicians. Men in conjunto bands simply didn’t want to listen to a woman tell them to turn down the drums because they were covering up the sound of her accordion. This isn’t as much of a problem for Ybarra these days, but in the nineties, when she was recording for Hacienda Records, in Corpus Christi, and the venerable Rounder Records, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she experienced relentless discrimination—but only from Latino men, not Anglos.

“It’s not easy being a lady bandleader,” Ybarra says. “It’s more complicated than when it’s a man. Because they ignore the women. And they don’t want to be led by a woman in a band.”

But despite it all, Ybarra has prevailed. She has honed a distinctive style and has a reputation for playing varied genres of music, sometimes within the same composition, while incorporating interesting time changes and enterprising chord progressions. She is known for her own original songs, when a lot of accordionists favor standards. She has unwavering love for her hometown, with her most acclaimed song, “A Mi San Antonio,” sharing the same name as her most acclaimed album, A Mi San Antonio, released in 1994 by Rounder. She has had only two real contemporaries: fellow Texan Lupita Rodela and the late Chavela, a Southern Californian known as La Dama del Acordeón, or the Lady of the Accordion.

Though Ybarra was a big fan of German-made Hohner accordions, the company wouldn’t give her a signature line like Flaco Jiménez and Steve Jordan, she says, so she plays Gabbanelli accordions, out of Houston, for the most part. “Sometimes people think I’m playing two accordions, or three, because it makes a lot of sounds, a lot of noise,” Ybarra says. “And it makes you happy. And it wakes you up.”

Ybarra’s program at the Briscoe Western Art Museum—a mecca to Western art that opened in 2013 in the former San Antonio Public Library building and includes artifacts from the late Texas governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr.—is entitled “Conjunto Meets Country Western.” Ybarra and her accompanists will take to the library’s old reading room, filled with more than two hundred works of art and objects that capture the diversity of the Western experience, from contemporary pueblo pottery to a Selena Barbie doll, to play polkas, cumbias, zydeco, conjunto, and some good old country music.

The male guitarist in her band will sing a cover of George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and, along with a female vocalist, Ybarra will sing “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” recorded by Freddy Fender of the Texas Tornados, and “I Fall to Pieces,” by Patsy Cline. “The accordion is not the same as the steel guitar, but you can hear the country style,” Ybarra says.

Ybarra released the EP Al Caer la Tarde last year with Lourdes Pérez and has plans to record again sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, she is busy passing down her gift to a new generation of Texas accordionists. In 2016 she was a master teacher to conjunto accordion apprentice Iliana Vasquez, of Austin, as part of the Texas Folklife Apprenticeships in the Folk & Traditional Arts program. She also teaches weekly group lessons at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, in San Antonio, which in 2015 produced the play “La Reina del Acordeón: Eva Ybarra’s Life on Stage.”

“I love the accordion,” Ybarra says. “I sleep with the accordion. Sometimes I’m writing songs or practicing my songs and I fall asleep with it. And I wake up snoring and still playing with my fingers. I play in my dreams.” - Texas Monthly

"Eva Ybarra, Queen of the Accordion, to Play at Guadalupe"

Regarding conjunto music and accordion, names like Flaco Jiménez and Ramón Ayala come to mind before the few-and-far-between recognized female artists in the industry.

Time to change that tune. Make way for royalty when la Reina Del Acordeón, or the Queen of Accordion, steps into the fray. Eva Ybarra is one of the few females in the industry that gives the boys a run for their money – a true mastermind of the craft.

To highlight the music of Eva Ybarra and her powerful personal story, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center will present “La Reina del Acordeón: Eva Ybarra’s Life on Stage,” at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, and Sunday, March 22, at 3 p.m.

In a genre where most are content to perform the standard conjunto songs, Ybarra plays her own. She composes and writes her own pieces, and is the leader of her own conjunto: Eva Ybarra Y Su Conjunto. She is one of few female bandleaders in the conjunto world.

“Hay mucho envida, a lot of jealousy,” Ybarra said. “I had a hard time. A lot of men, they can’t take that a woman can take charge. They didn’t want to be led by a woman. Many of them were jealous.”

Unlike the simple chords used in conjunto, Ybarra defies the norm. She isn’t afraid to dabble with scales and chords, which distinguishes her sound most. Her rich melodies and powerful voice capture the spirit of a conjunto dance hall. Also, her shifts in tempo and unorthodox chord progressions have characterized her style and playful approach to composing – something only the finest of musicians can boast.

Her embellishments vary from classical and tango to mariachi. Her chord improvisations can even border on jazz, yet she manages to keep it conjunto. The simplest melody is transformed into a barrage of 16th and 32nd notes, transitioning from a slow huapango, or waltz, to a bouncy polka without skipping a beat.

Ybarra has always been confident in her abilities, but never puts anyone down and remains humble. She is quick to recognize the talent of others.

“I’m not competing with anyone,” Ybarra said. “I play my own style, as others do theirs.”

Ybarra’s playing lives up to the lofty title she has received. She is one of the most respected or scrutinized artists in the industry.

“I never gave myself that name. I’m not the type to play myself up like that,” Ybarra said. “I don’t mind that they call me ‘Queen of Accordion’, but many consider me the best female accordion player. I don’t like that. Just acknowledge me as a good accordion player, like you would a man. There is no need to categorize females.”

Despite her squeeze box prowess, Ybarra faces many challenges. She’s played in obscurity for more than 40 years in San Antonio. Even then, she continues to perform because of her passion for the music.

Historia de Una Reina: The History of a Queen
Ybarra is a homegrown treasure. Born and raised on the Westside of town, Ybarra was reared in a musical family. She was the fifth of nine children, whom also played instruments. Her dad, Pedro, played guitar and sang. Her mom, Maria Elosa, sang and composed music. While not professional, her family performed at many backyard parties and made a lot of friends smile.

“We were poor but happy,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra found her calling for the accordion at the tender age of four, when she was given a small accordion like a doll. She was self taught – listening to the radio, old 45 LP’s, and her older brother. By six, was performing at dance halls, restaurants, and cantinas around the city.

“I started by listening to the radio, and I learnt by ear, copying what I heard. But I didn’t want to copy anyone, I wanted my own style,” Ybarra said.

To this day, many find the accordion an unconventional instrument for a female to play, and was even considered improper for women to play in past times. Her mother encouraged her to play other instruments. She learned to play guitarron, bajo sexto, piano, guitar, and vihuela, amongst others.

Her father was the one that encouraged her to play accordion, accompanying her to performances and supporting her passion. He continued to do so as she grew into an adult, until his death in 1991.

“Mom took me to piano lessons, and that’s where I learned the technical stuff – reading music, notes, chords,” Ybarra said. “But I knew in my heart that accordion was always my instrument of choice.”

A young Eva Ybarra poses for a promotional poster. Courtesy photo.
A young Eva Ybarra poses for a promotional poster. Courtesy photo.
Originally, Ybarra played in her older brother’s group, Pedro Ybarra y Los Chamacones. She was 14 years old when producer Ruben Ruiz discovered the band and scored them a two year record deal with Rosina Records in San Marcos. Regarding advice from Ruiz, the band’s name was changed to Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto.

Throughout the years, Ybarra has recorded many albums. She gained more recognition in the ’90s. Ybarra recorded two albums with Hacienda Records, based out of Corpus Christi, but her most renowned albums were recorded at Rounder Records: “A Mi San Antonio (For My San Antonio),” which was released in 1993, and Romance Inolvidable, Unforgettable Romance, in 1996.

Push and Pull of Life: Eva’s Inspiration for Her Music
“I write songs about so many things,” Ybarra said. “From the hardships I’ve had in life to the couple I saw in love. My accordion can capture every feeling, and that’s what’s beautiful about it. You can get lost in it.”

One of her most famous songs, and albums, is “A Mi San Antonio,” dedicated to her beloved city.

“I love San Antonio. I love the people, my audience. I love performing out of town, but this is my hometown, and this is where I’ll die,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra played “A Mi San Antonio” for me as we sat at the Guadalupe. Ybarra’s love for the instrument shows in her playing. Her nimble fingers effortlessly glide over the white keys of the accordion. Eyes closed, swaying to the rhythm, Ybarra performs a minor-sounding waltz. As if in a different world, her song finishes with a grand crescendo. She opens her eyes and smiles, retuning back to earth.

Ybarra is on a mission to prove that she is more than just a novelty. Her love for accordion, her persistence, and her charisma has made a mark on conjunto music and on the people for whom she performs.

Despite the many songs Ybarra has written about love and heartbreak, she has never been married or engaged. She has devoted her life to the accordion.

“I’m married to music,” Ybarra said. “If (I) get married, they’ll take it away. They’ll get jealous. I belong to the music. I’m going to die with an accordion in my hands.” - San Antonio Report

"Eva, Diva"

IT USED TO BE THAT ACCORDIONIST Eva Ybarra was known mainly for being the only female of any consequence in male-dominated conjunto. But in the early nineties, as Hispanic culture began easing into the mainstream, all that changed. Like Flaco Jiménez, Steve Jordan, Mingo Saldívar, and other veterans of the genre, Ybarra traded the insular world of local labels and cantina gigs for national exposure. A Mi San Antonio, her 1994 debut for Massachusetts-based Rounder Records, was a superb if largely conventional conjunto set. And her new Romance Inolvidable (Rounder) is even better, adding a daring mix of banda (Mexico’s big-band form), ballads, and country and jazz flavorings to the traditional polkas and rancheras. “I wanted this album to sound different—progressive as well as traditional,” says Ybarra, who has been invited to play an international music festival in Seattle this fall.

Word is finally spreading that the forty-something performer (she won’t reveal her age) is no novelty but a genuine trailblazer. Women have always been discouraged from leading conjuntos (the term for the bands as well as the music), but Ybarra’s family was different. Growing up in south San Antonio, she taught herself the accordion by following along to the radio. When she was six, her parents took her to local restaurants to play and continued to chaperone her gigs until she was in her late twenties, enabling her to crack the all-male circuit. “Women were not supposed to go into the cantinas—there was nobody in there except drunk men,” she says with a laugh. “But I liked playing for the borrachitos, the drunk men, because they listened to the music and they cheered.”

Still, Ybarra has never gotten sufficient work with her conjunto; even today she supplements her income by leading a mariachi trio through San Antonio restaurants. And she has had terrible luck keeping bands together because, she says, hidebound traditionalists won’t take orders from a woman. The day after she tore up the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio in 1991, every member of her all-male band quit. “It’s jealousy,” she declares. “They won’t accept a woman getting the applause.” Her current conjunto includes no Hispanics except for her longtime singing partner, Gloria Garcia Abadia.

Historically, Ybarra’s closest female peers had been the blind San Antonio accordionist Lupita Rodela and Chavela, a young Southern Californian who died in a freak accident three years ago. But thanks to the lessons she has been giving at San Antonio’s Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and elsewhere, the stage is getting crowded: One student, Davette Esparza, plays accordion for the tejano group Inocencia, and another, Brenda Martinez, leads her own band. The queen of progressive conjunto is happy to spawn her own competition. - Texas Monthly


A Mi San Antonio, CD 6056 (Rounder Records,
Romance Inolvidable, CD 6062 (Rounder
Records, 1996)



    Eva Ybarra, known professionally as “La Reina del Acordeón” (“The Queen of Accordion”), is a venerated Texas-Mexican conjunto accordionist, band leader, and music educator. As one of the few female conjunto artists with a decades-long career, Ybarra is a rarity. She holds the distinction of being the first female conjunto musician to be honored with several prestigious national and state awards. Eva has been forging her own path in conjunto and she’s not done yet.

Career Honors

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Hall of Fame (San Antonio, Texas – 2003)

Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame (Alice, Texas – 2008)

Univisión: Salón de Fama (San Antonio, Texas – 2008)

Tejano Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum (San Benito, Texas - 2009)

South Texas Conjunto Association Lifetime Achievement Award (Mercedes, Texas – 2015)

v  “La Reina del Acordeón: Eva Ybarra’s Life on Stage” (San Antonio, Texas – 2015) *

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Nation Heritage Fellow (Washington D.C. – 2017)**

Texas State Musician (Austin, Texas – 2022)**

* “La Reina del Acordeón: Eva Ybarra’s Life on Stage” was a sold-out stage play based on the life of Eva Ybarra.

** Eva is the first female conjunto musician to be named an NEA Heritage Fellow and Texas State Musician

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE GO TO https://evaybarra.com/about/

Band Members