In the 1940s, Las Hermanas Rangel were a popular Mexican-American music group in St. Paul’s West Side, known for their romantic ballads and fast-paced corridos.
The girls started performing after a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church heard them sing in the choir, and offered to pay for the girls’ vocal lessons, said Genevieve Rangel, 83, adding that she still sings in the choir today.
The sisters soon became darlings of the West Side, singing at community dances, restaurants, parties and church events. The trio, consisting of sisters Eugenia, Genevieve and Maria Rangel, often performed with different variations of their brothers’ bands. In their heyday, the siblings sang with their brother Francisco (“Kico”) in the Kico Rangel band, which played popular mambos and cha-chas.
“They knew all of the repertoire that people wanted to hear, and the important thing was that they could perform it in a different way,” Latin music historian Maya López-Santamaría said. “They were bringing what was hot in a way that nobody else could.”
The sisters started performing as Las Hermanas Rangel as teenagers and kept going until they were married with children, Genevieve said.
When the sisters began performing in the ’40s, the Latin music scene in St. Paul was flourishing, thanks in part to “King of Mambo” Perez Prado’s arrival to the United States, bringing with him the mambo craze that was taking over much of Latin America, Santamaría said.
By the ’70s, the area developed its own “West Side Sound,” brimming with “Latin beats, blues, jazz, bebop and rock and roll,” Leigh Roethke wrote in “Latino Minnesota.”
“No other Latino area in Minnesota developed culturally and socially to the extent of the West Side during this era. It had a core of active families who gave careful attention to the preservation of traditional culture,” Santamaría wrote in the booklet accompanying the 1999 compilation, “Música de la Raza: Mexican and Chicano Music in Minnesota.”
A tradition for generations
The Rangels moved to St. Paul in 1928 after first immigrating to Kansas for a few years. Parents Francisco and Crescencia Rangel emphasized to their children the importance of preserving Mexican customs, including music and dance styles, Juanita Rangel-Moran said in a 1975 interview with Minnesota Historical Society for a Mexican-American Oral History project.
Francisco and Crescencia Rangel also often helped organize celebrations for traditional Mexican holidays and were known as West Side community leaders, according to “Latino Minnesota.”
“The family was always musical. My mother would teach songs and dances to the girls. My dad would write plays,” Francisco Rangel said in a 1975 Minnesota Historical Society interview.
Through their various career endeavors, the Rangel siblings helped continue their parents’ and community’s work of preserving traditional Mexican music and dance in Minnesota.
Eugenia encouraged Francisco to take up the saxophone as a teenager, he said in the MHS interview, and he went on to form his own bands. Known today as a Twin Cities “saxophonist extraordinaire,” Francisco still plays a few gigs each week at age 80.
In 1962, Maria Rangel-Moran founded the Ballet Folklórico Guadalupano, a traditional Mexican folkloric dance troupe, and Juanita Rangel-Moran sewed costumes for the students’ performances in parades and festivals, like the State Fair. Their other sister, Fidelia (pictured above), also danced with a group, Genevieve Rangel said.
And today, Juanita’s daughter, Rebecca Moran Cusick, leads Los Alegres Bailadores, a Twin Cities-based Mexican folkloric dance group.
“I think music and dance has always been in our family, it’s in our blood,” said Cusick, who founded the group 40 years ago. “Just to know that I’m able to carry on tradition and our culture means so much to me, that I can instill in children … to keep their culture, or to learn about someone else’s culture.”
This Sunday on the Local Show, we’ll be listening to two tunes from the Rangel family: “Crei,” from Las Hermanas Rangel and Trio Gaeona, and “Jalisco No Te Rajes!” by Maria and Genevieve Rangel and Jose Gaona.
Both tracks are from Maya López-Santamaría’s “Música de la Raza: Mexican and Chicano Music in Minnesota.” Santamaría also wrote and directed a musical based on the lives of the Rangels called “Los Rumbaleros,” which premiered at the History Theatre in 2001.
Jackie Renzetti is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is a projects editor at the Minnesota Daily and co-hosts Radio K’s “Off the Record.”