Music of the Chicano Movement

Lesson 3:

Corridos: Music as Storytelling and Historical Record


How did corridos serve as an important form of storytelling and historical record during the Chicano movement?


Can you write lyrics for a corrido?

Mexican corridos, cover art by Irwin Rosenhouse. Folkways Records.


Music as Storytelling and Historical Record

Mexican corridos, cover art by Irwin Rosenhouse. Folkways Records.

Smithsonian Folkways / Arhoolie Records Album Covers

30 MIN

20+ MIN

25+ MIN

The Historical and Cultural Context of the Corrido

Component 1

30 minutes

Corrido albums (cover art), by Wayne Pope, Morgan Dodge, and Josue Rojas. Arhoolie Records.

Attentive Listening: "El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina"

Play a 30–45 second clip from this audio recording.


Think about this guiding question:

What is the purpose of this song?

This type of song is called a corrido

A corrido is essentially a narrative ballad: Its main purpose is to tell a story.


Corridos have been sung in Mexico and along the US-Mexico border for over 150 years.


Most often, corridos are sung in Spanish.


Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is home to an extensive library of corridos.

Attentive Listening: "Corrido de Rio Arriba"

Listen to a 30–45 second clip from a different corrido.


Think about the following guiding question:

What are some similarities between these two corridos?

Corridos: Similarities 

Some similarities you may have noted are:

  • Both songs have guitar accompaniment
  • Both songs are felt in ¾ time
  • Both songs are sung in Spanish
  • Both songs have one harmony part (in addition to the melody)
  • Both songs were written during the Chicano movement (late 1960s–early 1970s)

Mexican corridos, cover art by Irwin Rosenhouse. Folkways Records.

Corridos are based on epic stories! 


In many cases, they tell the stories of ordinary men who became heroes because they were viewed as brave, strong, and willing to stand up to oppressors.


Corridos have been written about tragedies, battles, death, and even elections!

Corridos in Context

Ballads & Corridos (1949-1975), album cover art by Josue Rojas. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

During the time of the Chicano movement, some composers used corridos as a vehicle to expose evils and injustices, and to relay what they felt was the truth about events as they were actually happening.

Corridos in Context

U.S. Mexican Border. United States Geological Survey, PD (U.S. Code § 105).

An important theme of many corridos has been intercultural conflict (especially conflict on the US-Mexico border).

Reies López Tijerina

Both corridos featured in this lesson were written about an influential, and somewhat controversial historical figure during the time of the Chicano movement: Reies López Tijerina.


Tijerina became well-known for his aggressive attempts to return land grants to descendants of their Spanish colonial and Mexican owners.

José Angel Gutiérrez, Reies López Tijerina, and Rodolfo 'Corky' Gonzalez at the National Convention of the Raza Unida Party, photo by Oscar R. Castillo. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

We Want our Land Back!

Reies López Tijerina and other Chicana/o leaders/activists were frustrated that Mexican Americans had been forced off land guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.


They were bitter about “being treated as foreigners on land that was once theirs” (Montoya, 2016, p. 17).

Resurrection City-Untitled, by Jill Freedman. National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid

Tierra o muerte (Land or Death), by Emanuel Martinez. National Museum of American History.

Tijerina led the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid, an important historical event, and Tijerina's most famous attempt to draw attention to land issues.


The Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid culminated in a violent standoff between Tijerina and his supporters, and the local police and political figures in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico (1967).

Listening Activity

Click to the next two slides to listen to short excerpts from each corrido again.


This time, follow along with the lyrics, which provide two different perspectives on Tijerina’s involvement in the violence that occurred during the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid.


Think about this guiding question as you listen:

What are the differences in these perspectives?

"El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina” by Rumel Fuentes

Aquí vivía la gente / La tierra los mantenía / Pero el tiempo les robó / Las tierras que ellos tenían. / Solo queda una cuchilla / llamada Tierra Amarilla.


Iba un hombre muy violento / Las tierras a recobrar / A las cortes más supremas / subió solo a declarar / Solo una barra de fierro / Fue lo que pudo encontrar.


Reies López Tijerina / Como Zapata, buscaba / Que de esta tierra robada / Hacer lo que Dios mandaba / La justicia se negó / Nunca pudo él lograr nada.

Our people lived here / Provided for by the land / But time stole from them / The lands that they owned. / Only a strip is left / Called Tierra Amarilla (Yellow Land). 


A very violent man went / To recover the lands / To the most supreme of courts / He went alone to testify / But only an iron fence / Was he able to find.


Reies López Tijerina / Like Zapata, sought / To make of this stolen land / what God wills / Justice was denied / He didn't succeed. 

"Corrido de Rio Arriba” by Roberto Martinez

Un grupo de nuestra raza
Muy descontentos bajaron
Y en oficiales de estado
Su venganza, ellos tomaron.


Su jefe les suplicaba     
"No debería haber violencia."
Pero no los controlaba
Pues perdieron la paciencia.


Un diputado en el suelo
Se queja con agonía
Con una bala en el pecho
Allá por Tierra Amarilla.

A group of our people
Made their way in great discontent And upon state officials
Took their vengeance.


Their leader begged them
"Violence mustn’t ensue."
But he couldn't control them Because they had lost their patience. 


A deputy on the ground
Groans in agony
A bullet lodged in his chest
ver there in Tierra Amarilla. 

Throughout history, many other important and well-known Mexican and Mexican American leaders (as well as heroes who were affiliated with other social justice movements) have been memorialized through corridos.

Corrido as Memorial

Ballads & Corridos. Album cover art by Josue Rojas. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Corrido Discovery Activity (Optional)

Pancho Villa

Click on the images of the historical figures below to read a synopsis of their stories, and listen to an excerpt from a related corrido.

César Chávez

Martin Luther King Jr.

Francisco “Pancho” Villa

Francisco “Pancho” Villa is one of the most famous symbols of the Mexican Revolution.


Pancho Villa is famous for being an advocate for the poor.


Some have referred to Pancho Villa as Mexico’s “Robin Hood.”

Viva la revolucion, by unknown artist. National Museum of American History.

César Chávez

César Chávez is best-known for his efforts to start a union for farmworkers in the 1960s.


Chávez (along with other activists) organized strikes, boycotts, and marches to bring awareness to the plight of Mexican American farmworkers.


Some of these efforts were successful and resulted in higher wages, better benefits, and more humane working conditions for laborers.

César Chávez, by Manuel Acosta. National Portrait Gallery.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an important historical figure of the civil rights movement.


Martin Luther King Jr. is best-known for using non-violent approaches to advance civil rights.


This corrido was written four days after his assassination in 1968.

Martin Luther King Jr., by Yousuf Karsh. National Portrait Gallery.

Learning Checkpoint

  • What types of stories do corridos usually tell?
  • How were corridos used during the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s? 

End of Component 1: Where will you go next?

Corridos: Exploring Instrumentation and Musical Elements

Component 2

20+ minutes

Rumel Fuentes, photo by Chris Strachwitz. Arhoolie Records.

Attentive Listening: "El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina"

Listen to a short excerpt (30-45 seconds) from a corrido called “El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina” (by Rumel Fuentes).


As you listen, think about this guiding question:

Which instruments do you hear?

"El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina"

Rumel Fuentes, photo by Chris Strachwitz. Arhoolie Records.

  • There is one male voice on this recording (Rumel himself on the melody).
  • There is one female voice (harmony). Jo Zettler, Rumel’s wife, sings the harmony (as she did on many of Rumel’s songs).
  • Rumel Fuentes (the composer of this corrido) also played classical guitar.
  • This recording also includes a requinto guitar (smaller), played on the melodic interludes between verses.

Attentive Listening

Play the same excerpt again, this time with a new guiding question:


What do you notice about the beat/time/meter of this song?

Engaged Listening

The “time” of this song is felt in distinct groups of three (3/4 time):

this is true for most corridos.


Listen again . . .

This time, try to tap, step, or clap the distinct groups of three beats (strong, weak, weak) along with the recording.

Attentive Listening

Listen again . . .


What do you notice about the form (i.e., structure) of this song?

Harmonic Analysis

Listen again . . .

Can you identify the harmonic (chordal) structure?

Raise your hand (or lower it) every time the chord changes.


Listen again . . .


How do you think musicians usually learn this type of music?

Oral Traditions

The corrido is primarily an aural/oral tradition.


This means many musicians learn this type of music by ‘ear’ – not by reading written staff notation.

Oral Traditions

Extension Activities (Engaged Listening):

  • Can you hum (or sing on a neutral syllable) the melody along with the recording? How about the harmony?​
  • ​Can you strum I/V chord changes? (Especially if students are learning a chordal instrument, such as ukulele or guitar)

Corrido Composer: Rumel Fuentes

The corrido you just heard was written and recorded by Mexican American composer/singer, Rumel Fuentes, in Eagle Pass, Texas in the early 1970s.


Eagle Pass is a Texan border town (located along the US-Mexico border).

Attentive Listening "Corrido de Rio Arriba"

Next, listen to an excerpt from another corrido ("Corrido de Rio Arriba" by Roberto Martínez):


In which ways is this musical example different than the last example?

Corrido Composer: Roberto Martínez

The second corrido you heard was written by another important composer in the southwestern United States during the time of the Chicano movement, Roberto Martínez. It was recorded by his group, Los Reyes de Albuquerque (The Kings of Albuquerque).

Roberto Martínez, photo by Genevieve Russell. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Los Reyes de Albuquerque

This recording features a different type of performing ensemble: A mariachi- style group from New Mexico named Los Reyes de Albuquerque.


This recording has male voices only.


In addition to guitar and 2-part vocal harmonies, this recording features a button accordion.

Roberto Martínez, by Genevieve Russell. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Hohner Corona II Accordion signed by Flaco Jimenez. National Museum of American History.

Optional Assessment Activity

  1. Listen to Rumel Fuentes’s “El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina” again (in its entirety).
  2. Think about the ways in which music elements and expressive qualities are used, and complete a detailed listening log for this song.

Learning Checkpoint

  • How are music elements and expressive qualities often used in corridos (instruments, time, form/structure, harmony)?

End of Component 2: Where will you go next?

Composing Corridos

Component 3

25+ minutes

About Corridos

A corrido is a song that tells a story . . . often an epic story that has to do with an important person or event.


Most corridos are composed quickly . . .  They are an immediate response to an important event/incident.

Book Clipart. Clipart Library, PD.


A corrido is structured in stanzas (often, 8) –– very much like a poem.

Each stanza often has either 4 or 6 lines.

Each line contains 7-10 syllables.

Stanza Examples

Here is an example of a 4-line stanza from "Corrido de Rio Arriba":


Their leader pleaded with them, “There mustn’t be any violence,” but he could not control them. They just lost all patience.

Here is an example of a 6-line stanza from "El corrido de Reies Lopez Tijerina":


A very violent man set out

to recover the land;

the most supreme of courts

he went alone to testify;

but only an iron fence

was he able to find.


Many corridos have an ABCB rhyming scheme.


For example (a stanza from "Corrido de Rio Arriba"):

(A) Un grupo de nuestra raza

(B) Muy descontentos bajaron   

(C) Y en oficiales de estado

(B) Su venganza ellos tomaron

Writing a Corrido: 8 Steps

Stanza 1: Ask for permission (Dear audience, I'd like to tell you a little story)

Stanza 2: Introduce the characters

Stanza 3: Present a warning (But wait! There is danger ahead)

Stanza 4: Describe the challenge

Writing a Corrido: 8 Steps

Stanza 5: Build the confrontation

Stanza 6: Unfold the tragedy

Stanza 7: Define the moral

Stanza 8: Bid farwell

Creative Activity: Writing Corridos!

Can you think of a recent event (or person) that has had a direct impact on your life?

Today, you will have an opportunity to write your own lyrics and/or music in the style of a corrido!


Start by considering the following question:

It's Time to Compose!

Use the Corrido Composition Worksheet to compose your song lyrics.


This worksheet has detailed steps for you to follow:


Extension Ideas for Teachers:

  • Ask students to share their lyrics aloud in groups or for the whole class.​

  • Create a two-chord backing track and have students speak their corridos in rhythm or compose a simple melody that follows the syllabic structure of their lyrics.​

  • If students play a chordal instrument, they can strum along!​

  • Organize a corrido concert

  • Listen to some award-winning corridos HERE (written by students!)

Learning Checkpoint

  • What are the most common structural characteristics of a corrido?

End of Component 3 and Lesson 3: Where will you go next?

Lesson 3 Media Credits

Audio courtesy of​:

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Images courtesy of:

The Arhoolie Foundation

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of American History

National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

TM/© 2021 the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

© 2021 Smithsonian Institution. Personal, educational, and non-commercial uses allowed; commercial rights reserved. See Smithsonian terms of use for more information

This Lesson was funded in part by the Smithsonian Youth Access Grants Program with support from the Society for Ethnomusicology and the National Association for Music Education.

For full bibliography and media credits, see Lesson 3 landing page.