Julio Riojas, director of San Antonio’s popular Mariachi Uno, passed away October 14, 2015, at age 51. A talented musician and vocalist, Julio entertained family, friends and dignitaries with his original mixture of comedy and traditional mariachi music. His untimely death came as the result of a long series of health problems.
Julio grew up playing mariachi music in both church and school. For most of his life, he was a volunteer musician at parishes like San José Mission, San Fernando Cathedral and, more recently, San Alfonso Church. As a student at Lanier High School in the late 70s and early 80s, he was a member of the San Antonio Independent School District’s All-District Mariachi, where he played the violin and was a featured vocalist.
Julio, Alfonso and Eddie Riojas
For over three decades, Julio made music with his father, Alfonso, his brothers, Eddie and Martín, and other musicians. Their mini-mariachi often performed for weddings, birthdays, quince años, serenades and even funerals. Although they entertained high profile dignitaries such as President Carter, President Reagan, President Ford and Prince Charles, Julio considered performing for those who were overcoming life-threatening illnesses to be his most memorable experiences.
Julio was not your ordinary mariachi musician. Known as “the jokester,” he often performed in half-black, half-white traje—with hair to match! This was perfect for his act that intertwined traditional mariachi music with impressions and jokes, and always had people rolling on the floor. During his renditions of mariachi favorites like “Volver, Volver,” “Amor Eterno” and “El Rey,” Julio would imitate popular American and Mexican singers like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, Vicente Fernández and Juan Gabriel. He was brilliant, compassionate, talented and funny. A master at making his audience relax and feel comfortable, he was known to serenade people while sitting on their laps.
Julio was born and raised on San Antonio’s West Side, where values like family unity, culture and tradition thrive. He had two great passions: mariachi music and working with seniors. His full-time day job was at a nursing home, and in the evenings and on weekends he performed with his mariachi.
Once Julio realized how much he enjoyed working with the elderly and disabled, he enrolled in nursing school. After earning a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) degree from St. Philip’s College, he became activity director and events coordinator for Retama Manor Nursing Center, a job he was offered after performing there. Senior citizens loved him because he entertained them, made them laugh and—even more importantly—genuinely loved and respected them. During work breaks, Julio often rushed off to perform at a nearby cemetery where he was frequently hired to play for funerals and burials. “No wonder I’ve never been famous,” Julio used to say. “All my fans are dead!”
Julio Riojas was a true joy to be around. He knew how to inject humor into every situation and made people laugh wherever he went. Loved dearly by so many whose lives he enriched, he will be greatly missed.
A wake for our departed friend and compañero will be held on Sunday, October 18, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., at Castillo Mission Funeral Home, with a rosary at 7:00. The funeral Mass will be held the following day at 1 p.m., at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. See Julio’s San Antonio Express-News obituary for more information.