For the People

From “cotton picker” to Grammy-winning artist, the life of Little Joe is astounding and inspirational. The Chicano star had to take charge of his family at age 14, working in the fields, yet found a way to use his real talent and break into the music business.

He chronicles all of the struggles and triumphs in his award-winning book, “¡No Llore, Chingon! An American Story: The Life of Little Joe,” written by Emma Gonzalez. After 80 years of life, Joe decided it was the right time to release his biography and he found the perfect author in Gonzalez, who also grew up as a migrant child working in the fields.

“I was waiting for the right cotton picker to come along and write my story,” Joe said. “When I read her book ‘Field Mice: Memoirs of a Migrant Child,’ I realized how our beginnings were so much alike.”

The book has won several awards, including Most Inspirational Nonfiction and Best Cover at the 2020 International Latino Book Awards in Los Angeles. From there, the book went on to win first place Documentary at the Books to Movies Awards, was a Best Biography finalist and won Best Family History English Book in 2021.

The book touches all of its readers, because many can relate to the hardships Joe and his family have endured. It also uplifts readers with the message that anyone can succeed with hard work and perseverance, despite the hurdles they face.

“I learned along the way that rich people are born with opportunities to waste, while poor people are born without opportunities, so we have to create our own,” Joe said. “I’m blessed that I’ve been able to do that throughout my career.”

Little Joe has been an international performer for more than 60 years, bringing his special blend of Mexican and American music to fans all over. He was just a teenager when his cousin, David Coronado, recruited him to play guitar for his Latinaires, which would eventually become known as Little Joe and the Latinaires. Today, Joe is joined by his band, La Familia.

Altogether, Little Joe has recorded more than 70 albums, won five Grammys and was the second recipient of the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) Texas branch “Governors Award” in 1997 for his contributions to the legacy of Texas Music. The award is the highest honor that can be given by a NARAS branch. He also was appointed “Texas State Musician” by the Texas Legislature on March 25, 2019.

Joe is constantly working on a new project and hitting the road to bring his music to his adoring fans. Most recently, Joe put out an album with his younger brothers Rocky and Gilbert, titled “The Hernandez Brothers,” and toured with them last fall and winter.

“We’ve done a few shows and it’s just been great working with my kid brothers and the response has been really great,” Joe said. “What I did for this particular project is I went back with Rocky — it had been years since he’d performed, but he had some really great hits from the past — and I revived some of those hits with him. With my youngest brother Gilbert, he produced albums on his own, but I had him sing duets and trios with me and Rocky — some of the classics that people keep calling for. I tailored the album for the show, that way I could go on the road and perform the album and that worked out really well.”

Little Joe y La Familia is returning to the Fiesta Showroom at Harrah’s Laughlin for two nights, Friday-Saturday, May 13-14.

“I’m all tuned up and ready to go for Laughlin,” he said. “It will be fun, fun, fun. I feel so much at home there. It’s just one of those places I feel comfortable. I’m real grateful that I can pick and choose where I play. I have old habits and certain shows and certain places that I just want to go. Harrah’s in Laughlin, I just feel comfortable and I can get out there with the public.”

With an enormous repertoire, it can be a difficult decision creating the setlist for each show, but he’s bringing the classics to Laughlin.

“You’ll hear more of the classics. One of my favorite songs is ‘I Wish You Love.’ That song captures everybody’s attention and appreciation. It’s just a beautiful mellow song, so I perform it just about everywhere,” Joe said. “I’m lucky to have a real good mix and I just read the audience. I would bore myself to death if I had to play just one style, one genre, one language.”

Joe said one of his career highlights was touring in Japan, which coincided with a late honeymoon for he and his wife.

“I got married on a Wednesday afternoon. I went to work that morning, took a half day off and got married, then went back to work the next day,” Joe recounted. “That was in February of 1962 and there was no time for honeymoons. The first trip to Japan, we called it our honeymoon and she went with me on that tour. We thought, ‘Well it took a little while, but it was worth waiting for.’”

Joe had an appreciation for Japanese culture and likewise, he found they had an interest in Mexican culture.

“The first tour to Japan, I think it was three or four days in Kumamoto and it was like the world’s fair,” he said. “I had read the book, ‘Shogun’ and I had told my manager to start lining it up, I’m going to take a trip to Japan. I fell in love with the book and the Japanese culture and I wanted to experience it.

“I heard about Julio Iglesias selling millions of albums in Japan, because the Japanese just love Mexican culture. So I said, ‘When I go to Japan I’m going to take my music over there like Julio.’ Of course I’m no Julio. It took 14 years, but it happened. It was really a dream come true. I was so impressed with the Japanese people. It was incredible. That is one of my everlasting highlights.”

He said another moment that stands out in his mind was during a trip to Europe.

“So many things happened traveling through Europe,” Joe said. “I’m not a religious person, but we happened to be at the Vatican and I went to mass in the afternoon. I was sitting in the second row and I just got into myself meditating and feeling the vibes that were there. When I kind of came back to earth, the place was full. I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t hear the people come in.’ After mass, one of the musicians said the pope was going to speak from his window in the courtyard. We walked through the Sistine Chapel and out the back and there was 10,000 people in the courtyard! It was quite an experience and the feeling stayed with me for months. I’m not religious, but just the fact, with so much positive energy around, it just lifted me and it’s an incredible high. I had never felt that before. I told my manager then, “I’m not going to quit music, but I’ve got to do something better with what I do, become a humanitarian.”

His experience at the Vatican ignited Joe to use his platform to speak for those less fortunate, as he says, for “mi gente,” my people. He is an advocate for United Farm Workers and he speaks on causes that help Hispanics in poverty and combats the disease, diabetes, that affects millions of Hispanics.

“You know I always wanted to be helpful, but after that experience I just wanted to do more good,” he said. “It’s one of the things that keeps me going. Music gives me the podium to speak on causes and communities that need to be spoken for. If I can bring awareness to these issues and help people with things I might say, then I will.”

At 81, Joe jokes about his age, yet he will never slow down. Performing in front of fans is his life.

“My life has just been so enriched by the people that I’ve met, friendships I’ve made, with people from all walks of life. You will be my friend until my last days, which could be next year, but thank you for this year!” he laughed. “I am beginning to feel the age, I’ll be 82 in October. I know my day will come, but my hope I guess is that I’ll just fall apart on stage. ‘Whoops, Humpty Dumpty, we can’t put him back together!’”