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Remembering José Madrigal

Posted By Connie Sheu, Tuesday, August 27, 2013

José Madrigal (1918-2013)

A living icon of guitar music in the Cincinnati area passed away on August 25, 2013.

José Madrigal was born in Michoacán, Mexico in 1918. A few years later, his family crossed the border seeking work and relief from civil war. They eventually settled in Blue Rock, Illinois (just south of Chicago), where José's father worked for the railroad. His mother died when José was around 11. While raising his younger siblings, he began playing a discarded guitar and soon found himself making more money for a single gig than his father could make in a week.

After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, José enlisted in the army and fought bravely in Germany, winning several medals and US citizenship. His ability to master several languages, including German, became a useful skill, and he was often called upon to act as translator with POWs. After the war he found work playing guitar, and resumed his education, receiving a college degree in International Trade. Emulating Django Rinehardt and Chet Atkins, José listened to country western music and jazz standards on the radio, and soon became known by his many fans as "Country Joe". He also began exploring his musical heritage, following Andrés Segovia, and learning Spanish.

José soon found work in Ohio providing live music at radio station WHIO in Dayton. He married, raised several children, and joined the faculty at Northern Kentucky University. He retired in the early 90s, spending his later years teaching, building guitars, performing in a variety of styles and venues, and inspiring everyone whose life he touched with his music, and his indomitable, gentle spirit.

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