Mexico’s most famous ranchera singer, Lucha Villa earned more notice than Lola Beltran thanks to a long, successful film career in addition to her recording work. Born in the Chihuahua state town of Ciudad Camargo in the mid-’30s, young Luz Elena Bejarano entered a number of talent contests and was dubbed Lucha Villa by television producer Luis Dillon (the name is a contraction of Pancho Villa and the Chihuahua village where he spent time). Her biggest early hit was a version of the José Alfredo Jiménez standard “Media Vuelta,” and after several minor film roles, she became a star with the 1965 cockfighting feature El Gallo de Oro.
As with her music, Villa specialized in rural and ranchera pictures, a genre especially connected to American audiences familiar with Westerns. During the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, she recorded dozens of albums and appeared in dozens of pictures, including the 1973 screwball comedy Mecánica Nacional, which won the Ariel award (Mexico’s version of the Oscar). She also recorded songbook tributes to Jiménez and Juan Gabriel, and was saluted herself by Gabriel for his 1996 Las Tres Señoras (with Lola Beltran and Amalia Mendoza). Villa continued performing even after suffering a heart attack during surgery in 1997.