Conjunto royalty: 4 pioneers to be inducted into Hall of Fame this Saturday

SAN BENITO — She’s performed at the Smithsonian.

She’s helped conduct workshops to preserve music culture along the U.S./Mexico Border.

Now Norfilia Layton, lead vocalist for Los Layton, will be inducted into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

“We’re all excited more people are being inducted,” said Rey Avila, president of the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Layton will be one of four Conjunto legends inducted June 23 into the Hall of Fame. Pedro Ayala Jr., Rene Luna and Wilfredo Lopez will also become hall of famers. They will join scores of others who have been inducted over the years.

“They contribute to Conjunto, they’re all pretty good,” Avila said. “We’ve got so many. They’re all equal pioneers. It’s always an honor for us to do that. That’s what we’re here for.”

Accordionist Pedro Ayala Jr. was born into the Conjunto tradition. The son of Don Pedro Ayala, known as the “Monarca del Acordion,” the younger Ayala learned to play accordion at age 7.

“By age 12, he was recording music, both his father’s compositions and his own,” Avila said in a statement.

Ayala experimented with standard Conjunto music, he said, by adding jazz elements.

Ayala died in 2007, so his family will accept the honor for him.

“Rene Luna made his musical career as a ‘baterista’, a drummer, also known as a ‘tamborero,’” Avila stated in the statement.

“Luna is best known for his longevity with the conjunto of Gilberto Perez y Sus Compadres,” Avila said. “He began learning music at the age of 3, and by the time he was 5 years old, he was playing professionally at the Weslaco Club with his father Jesus Villegas Luna.”

The next inductee was a radio announcer, Avila said.

Wilfredo “Willie” Lopez was known as “El Mecanico” and he had a radio program called “Chulas Fronteras.”

“For ‘Chulas Fronteras’ he ventured into cantina bars armed with a recorder to capture live performances of Conjunto artists like Narciso Martinez, Pedro Ayala and Jimmy Morgan,” Avila said. “He was the radio announcer of ‘Chulas Fronteras’ for 53 years.”

Lopez died in 2011, so his family will accept the honor in his stead.

If You Go

WHAT: 17th Annual Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum Induction Awards

WHERE: Knights of Columbus Hall, 826 E. Stenger, San Benito

WHEN: 7 p.m. (awards ceremony) 8:30 p.m. to midnight (entertainment by Los Angeles Del Sur), Saturday

TICKETS: $10 presale, $12 at the door

TICKETS ON SALE AT: San Benito Chamber of Commerce 956-361-9111, Harlingen Chamber of Commerce 423-5440

For table reservations, call Rey Avila at 245-1666.


Wilfredo “Willie” López

Wilfredo Lopez took the name “El Mecanico” in the 1950s. López approached radio station XEJM in Reynosa about airing an advertisement for his auto mechanic’s shop. He improvised a commercial, and the manager was so impressed with his wit, he asked López to record the ad himself. Before long, other businessmen wanted Willie to advertise for them.

For “Chulas Fronteras” he ventured into cantina bars armed with a recorder to capture live performances of conjunto artists like Narciso Martínez, Pedro Ayala, Jimmy Morgan, José Flores, Valerio Longoria, Agapito Zuniga and Tony de la Rosa.

Pedro Ayala Jr.

Accordionist Pedro Ayala Jr. had roots in the regional music of South Texas and Northern Mexico. His grandfather was a member of Los Montañeses del Alamo.

Ayala was born in Donna in 1945.

In 1959 the Ayala brothers formed the conjunto of Los Hermanos Ayala, recording the song “Ojitos de Trigueña.” They played in Rio Grande Valley dancehalls and picked up a touring schedule.

Norfilia Layton

For more than 50 years, Norfilia Layton has been the lead vocalist for Los Layton, a family band originally named Los Hermanitos Layton.

The youngest of five children and the only female, Norfilia was born in Elsa in 1953. In 1965, the lead vocalist of the Laytons resigned, and 11-year-old Norfy joined the band. Her first hits were “El Gavilancito” and “Luto en el Corazón.”

Los Layton, as they became known, had a unique sound that blended accordion-driven conjunto music with the horns of Orquesta Tejana.

Norfy and Los Layton are enshrined in the Tejano Walk of Fame in Edinburg and the Borderfest Walk of Fame in Hidalgo.

René Luna

Luna is best known for his longevity with the conjunto of Gilberto Pérez y Sus Compadres. He played drums when Pérez recorded the following albums: “De Aquí Pal Real,” “Dulces Besos,” “Será Verdad,” “Tengo Una Novia” and “Voy a Seguir la Parranda.”

His career with Gilberto Pérez began in 1975. After a 25-year-run with Pérez, he formed a band with his brother Rubén. They called themselves Los Carnales Luna. Los Carnales were together for 10 years, recording several albums under the label of Los Carnales Records.