Eva Ybarra, the “Queen of the Accordion,” is one of only a few professional women accordionists in conjunto music. Conjunto originated in the late 19th century in working-class communities along Texas-Mexico border, and is distinct to that region. Using the accordion as the lead instrument, conjunto bands perform dance music based on Mexican and Czech-German folk forms such as the polka, mazurka, schottishe, waltz, and huapango. As the leader of Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto, Ybarra has specialized in writing and composing original conjunto music while also exploring non-standard chord progressions, advancing the art form’s evolution.
Born on San Antonio’s westside, Ybarra was one of nine children in a musical family. She took piano lessons on her mother’s encouragement while her father also urged her to take up the accordion at age four. She taught herself by listening to the radio, old LPs, and her older brother. “I started by listening to the radio, and I learnt by ear, copying what I heard. But I didn’t want to copy anyone, I wanted my own style,” Ybarra told journalist Amanda Lozano in 2015. By age six, Ybarra’s parents were taking her to perform in venues around San Antonio.
When she was 14 years old, Ybarra was discovered while performing with her brother, Pedro, and received a record deal with Rosina Records in San Marcos, Texas. Since that first big break, she has performed and recorded many albums with her band, Eva Ybarra y Su Conjunto. In the 1990s, awareness of her stature in conjunto music grew with several notable recordings which showcased her original songs and virtuosity. Among these albums are 1993’s A Mi San Antonio (For My San Antonio), and 1996’s Romance Inolvidable (Unforgettable Romance), both released by Rounder Records.
Besides being a professional musician, Ybarra is also a music educator. In 1997, she was the artist-in-residence at the University of Washington, where she taught accordion, bajo sexto, and guitarron. She has been an accordion instructor at Palo Alto College’s (San Antonio) conjunto program. Currently, she fosters the development of other conjunto accordion players by teaching at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s music education program in San Antonio. In 2016, she participated as a master teaching artist in Texas Folklife’s Apprenticeship Program.
Ybarra is in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Hall of Fame (San Antonio, inducted 2003), the Tejano R.O.O.T.S Hall of Fame (Alice, Texas, inducted 2008), the Univision Salon de Fama (San Antonio, inducted 2008), and the Tejano Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum (San Benito, Texas, inducted 2009). In 2015 she received the South Texas Conjunto Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Thank you to Charlie Lockwood, Texas Folklife, and Anina Moore, Texas Commission on the Arts for writing the bio for Eva Ybarra and her nomination for a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ybarra was recognized in 2017 as a recipient of one of eight fellowships granted by the NEA for her work preserving Conjunto as an art form.