RIP, Ralph Gonzalez

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Today, there are some people grieving and celebrating the life of Ralph Gonzalez. Gonzalez's funeral took place at St. Margaret's off Grande Avenue in Barrio Hollywood this morning. The Tucson Weekly wants to extend our sympathies to Gonzalez's friends and family, including his daughter, Julie Gallego, founder and director of Viva Performing Arts.

Weekly contributor Chelo Grubb wrote about Ā”Viva Arizona! and its 20th anniversary performance dedicated to Gallego's father, who was in hospice at the time:

Gallegos says her father always had a huge passion for music, and music's history in Tucson's culture. He was always interested in how European instruments found their way into Tucson's culture, and shaped the music scene. Gonzalez acted as the historian to Gallegos' role as choreographer, and together they created the cultural celebration that is Viva Arizona.

In addition to celebrating the history of Hispanic culture in the area, the show will be honoring Gonzalez. Gonzalez is in hospice right now, and while Gallegos is concerned about his strength, he does plan on going to Sunday's show.

"He doesn't know I'm honoring him, he would have a heart attack. He's a very humble man. He's always thinking about other people, not himself," Gallegos said.

It's not just Gonzalez that Viva is losing. Gallegos, remembering Viva's early days and the musicians who helped put on the first years of the performances, says many of the people who helped make the shows great are in their 80s and 90s. Gallegos says that musicians such as Jesse Tovar, a saxophonist, were instrumental in making Viva a success. Tovar died last week.

"That was just deviating. He would put together a 16 piece orchestra with musicians who knew how to play the songs from the 50s and I was so appreciative to him," Gallegos said. "This event will be a very sentimental journey because we are losing this generation of men who gave us this beautiful music."

One person in our arts community who looked to Gonzalez as a mentor and friend is writer, composer, filmmaker and photographer Daniel Buckley. With Gonzalez and Gallego, Buckley helped organize the Cine Plaza Series at the Tucson Fox Theatre.

The program showcased old Spanish-language films at the Fox Theatre, just down the street where Cine Plaza theater once stood. Cine Plaza fell victim to the city's first round of redevelopment, when it bulldozed a neighborhood and business center to make way for our beautiful Tucson Convention Center.

The debut of the series in April 2010 included Buckley's first Tucson documentary, Cine Plaza and Downtown Barrios. Gonzalez played an important role in that documentary, and Buckley will tell you that Gonzalez continued to help him with his current Tucson Mariachi project and other work as a resource and mentor.

From Ralph's obituary:

In 1947, Rafael graduated from the Carmelite Seminary in Ponca City, OK. He began his 20 year career with the US Air Force in 1948. In 1950, he met Mary. They wed in 1953 and started their family. Rafael was stationed in Morocco, Kansas, Texas, Spain and England where lasting memories were made. After his USAF retirement, Rafael, and his family returned to Tucson. He began his 2nd career with the Asarco Mission Mine in 1969, and retired in 1989, and was a member of the USWA union. Rafael was a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus - San Lucas Tristany, and was awarded the Grand Knight of the Year for the state of Arizona in 1982. His love of learning led him to earn an Associate Degree at PCC and then attended the U of A. He was an excellent writer and researcher. His greatest work was on the history of Latin music in Tucson and its many talented musicians. His research and writings were used as narrations for the local "Viva Arizona Show". The audience felt the essence of living in the Old Pueblo from the early years to present through music. Rafael was considered a "Tucson Historian" by many.

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