Tuesday, August 21, 2012

RIP Willie 'El Curro' Champion

San Antonio guitarist "El Curro" dies of cancer

Hector Sald, San Antonio Express-News Copyright 2012 San Antonio Express-News.
By Hector Saldaña
Published 1:35 a.m., Sunday, August 19, 2012

Flamenco guitarist Willie "El Curro" Champion, a San Antonio native who achieved international fame touring with Jose Greco and appeared in John Wayne's "The Alamo," died Saturday afternoon from complications of bone cancer. He was 79.

Champion was a River Walk institution, playing flamenco music for nearly 40 years at La Mansion del Rio. He last performed at Las Canarias, the popular restaurant at the hotel, two weeks ago. During Fiesta this spring, he performed at the Arneson River Theater.

"He was a flamenco icon," said his daughter, flamenco dancer Rosalinda "Chayito" Champion. "Flamenco was his life."

Close friend Emma Hernandez also appeared in the 1960 Wayne film. She still vividly remembers the scene in the film that spotlighted Champion's playing, as well as the moves of his famous wife, acclaimed flamenco dance star Teresa Champion.

"Willie played guitar in the cantina while Teresa danced on the table," Hernandez recounted. His music appeared throughout the movie.

Champion graduated from Fox Tech High School in 1954. As a young musician, he was initially attracted to boleros. But once he discovered flamenco, Champion never wavered. With Greco, he toured extensively for 17 years. He shared stages with the greats, from Tony Bennett to the Count Basie Orchestra.

"I don't know anyone that played as well as he did," said school friend Gilbert Hernandez.

Luvene Elias, a founding member of the Royal Jesters, called Champion "one of the best."

Champion is survived by his wife of 57 years, Teresa, and daughters Rosalinda Champion and Elsa Champion. Funeral arrangements are pending.

CHAMPION, Willie ‘El Curro’
Born: 6/21/1933, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.
Died: 8/18/2012, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

Willie ‘El Curro’ Champion’s western - musician:
The Alamo - 1960 (flamenco guitarist)

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