The Two Lives of José Mojica

By: Miguel Terry Valdespino

Only once is the soul delivered

with sweet and total renunciation.

Agustín Lara

Just once.

 

When the peace of mind of midnight falls, I like to sit and track down not a few musical themes that once delighted the international public, although today, unfortunately, they seem to be dusty in the most desolate corner of the world’s cultural memory.

I like to enjoy “old” themes in the voices of La Lupe, Toña La Negra, Lucho Gatica, Panchito Riset, Rolando Laserie, Elena Burke… and of a figure who one day decided to change the glamour that accompanied him on stage for the humble garments of a friar: the actor and vocalist José Mojica (Mexico 1896-Peru 1974), a luxury performer of songs such as Júrame, by María Grever, Nocturnal, by José Sabre Marroquín, Una furtiva lágrima, by Gaetano Donizetti, and Only once, composed especially for him by Agustín Lara , during the filming of the film Melodías de América, he learned that his friend would become a Franciscan friar.

José Mojica, whose real name was Crescenciano Abel Exaltation de la Cruz José Francisco de Jesús Mojica Montenegro y Chavarín, debuted as a tenor in 1916, integrating the cast of the famous buffalo opera El barbero de Sevilla in the Arbeu theater (now Miguel Lerdo de Tejada library). From then on I would star in theatrical and film settings and on record labels a story of artistic successes that would be impossible to list in a single newspaper article.

Recalled the prestigious researcher Ramón Fajardo, in his article “The performances in Havana of the Mexican tenor José Mojica”, the deep shock that caused on the island, in late 1931, the performances of the popular tenor, following responding to an invitation given to him by one of the best Cuban musicians of all time: the composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona , whom Mojica, already under a powerful reputation thanks to his magnificent voice and Latin gallant, warmly welcomed in his residence in Hollywood, where Lecuona’s hands shone on the piano.

A long time earlier, Lecuona himself had arrived, while filming the film The Cross and the Sword, a special help to the then unknown emigrant and dishwasher José Mojica, actor of supporting roles in a New York theatre company, where Lecuona looked especially at his undeniable talent and decided to take him to Hollywood to sing in the aforementioned film.

Finally, Mojica would appear throughout her life in twelve Hollywood films and six in Latin America, among which they could be named Must Marry the Prince, The King of gypsies, The Frontiers of Love, The Adventurous Captain and Love Thief.

Fajardo says that Lecuona’s Romanza anthology María la O had always been performed by sopranos, but an adaptation made by Mojica himself managed to allow him to be the first male voice to perform one of the Cuban master’s most praised songs and become one of the most shocking hits of the Mexican vocalist’s career, who twenty years later , in 1951, already with his priest habits, he would return to Havana, but this time to perform exclusively sacred music.

Thanks to the help and advice of the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, the Mexican tenor had managed to be part of the Chicago Opera Company and hone his knowledge of English, French and Italian and dance, horse riding and athletics. With Scottish diva Mary Garden, director of this company, she would achieve resounding success on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House.

De Mojica and his successes resounding in that first stage of his life, has written the journalist José Vadillo Vila: “He was pint and well intonated. The females sighed in his wake and more when he sang Júrame, who had made the masses successful. Galanazo from when Mexican cinema was pure ingot of successes.”

José Mojica el tenor y actor mexicano que se hizo sacerdote testimonio modesto lule
José Mojica the Mexican tenor and actor who became priest modest testimony lule

His mother’s death, which occurred in 1941, caused a deep depression in Mojica. From that moment on, no applause in coveted squares, no money, no mansions, they were able to stop the radical change that would turn the famed tenor into the single Friar José de Guadalupe Mojica, able to give up all his goods and property to unconditionally serve God until his last day on earth, on September 20, 1974.

In 1942 he had entered the Franciscan seminary of Cusco, Peru, where he adopted his new name, and then moved to the monastery of San Antonio de la Recoleta, where he culminated in his ordination as a priest in 1947, in the temple Maximus of San Francisco de Jesús, in the same city of Lima.

However, this event did not mean the end of his career, as fame helped him raise funds for the establishment of a seminar in Arequipa. Around 1958 he decided to write the book I Sinner, in which he tells the story of his life and talks about his conversion into religious. The book served as an argument for a film where he served as an actor. Around 1969 it was the subject of a sense of homage organized by the National Institute of Fine Arts, in the capital of Mexico.

Friar José de Guadalupe died, from heart problems, in absolute poverty, under the care of a deaf-mute old woman. Although the death of his mother and an appearance of Saint Teresita of Jesus gave him the final impulse towards a new life, Mojica himself recognized that, as a child, that had been his true vocation.

Today, forty-six years after his tenure, it is possible to enter the immense premises of the Internet to hear him sing the songs that placed him in a privileged place of the Latin American staff in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as to enjoy a very warm encounter that, in the Convent of San Francisco, in Lima, he held in 1969 with his friend and also tenor Pedro Vargas.

In this meeting, Father Mojica recalls the impact caused on Agustín Lara knowing that he would enter the religious life and the effort of the author of Granada to compose a farewell song for him.

Mojica
Mojica

-Not because I take the habits we will stop being friends, I will try to pray for you and you continue to compose those beautiful melodies for the world,” he then told him with a smile on his lips, minutes before Augustine locked himself in his room and, without sleeping all night, composed a piece that would premiere Mojica’s voice and go around the world.

Father Mojica reminded his friend Vargas how Augustine came to him with a roll of paper squeezed in his hand, where he had written lyrics and music, sat at the piano and, in that sweet and intimate voice he had, sang the beautiful work to him.

Walking through the network of networks, it is also possible to find images of Peruvian news of the time, in celluloid format, which includes the ordination of Father Mojica and the first Mass that he officiated, in the church of San Francisco de Lima, with the presence, among other important figures of Peru, of María Jesús de Bustamante, wife of the then president of the Republic.

They are small fragments of a long and fruitful existence, but they are, in short, like small pieces of a puzzle that are arming the soul of a great man, who was able to choose an expeditious and glamorous life; but he chose a spiritual life where fame, gold and money never took place.

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