Trini Lopez, a singer and guitarist who gained fame for his versions of “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer” in the 1960s and took his talents to Hollywood, died Tuesday. He was 83. Filmmaker P. David Ebersole, who just finished shooting a documentary on Lopez with Todd Hughes, confirmed that Lopez died from complications of COVID-19 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif. Mentored by Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, Lopez became an international star while performing in English and Spanish. Unlike Mexican-American singers such as Ritchie Valens, Lopez rejected advice to change his name and openly embraced his Mexican American heritage despite warnings it would hurt his career, reports the AP.
Born Trinidad Lopez III to immigrants from Guanajuato, Mexico, Lopez grew up in Dallas’ poor, Little Mexico neighborhood. The family’s dire economic situation forced Lopez to drop out of high school and work. His life changed after his father bought him a $12 black Gibson acoustic guitar from a pawn shop. His father taught him how to play the instrument, which led the young Lopez to perform at Dallas nightclubs that didn’t allow Mexican-American patrons. Holly saw Lopez at a small nightclub in Wichita Falls, Texas, and introduced him to Norman Petty, his record producer. Lopez later got a regular gig at PJ’s Night Club in West Hollywood. Sinatra saw him perform and offered him a contract with his new record label, Reprise, where Lopez got his first major hit with “If I Had A Hammer.” It went to No. 1 in nearly 40 countries. They became friends and were spotted together regularly in social circles in Las Vegas and Palm Springs. (The AP has much more on Lopez here.)