Johnny Florez, longtime mariachi musician, passes away at 93
LAS CRUCES - Long have the notes of mariachi music floated throughout Las Cruces and Doña Ana County from the guitar of Johnny Florez. He and his partner, Isabel Aguirre, have often been seen performing in charro outfits at the Las Cruces and Mesilla Farmers and Crafts Markets, events, nursing homes and other venues.
But after many years battling cancer, dementia and other ailments, Florez, 93, passed away Friday, June 4.
He was born in Kenzin, New Mexico — a small community south of Las Cruces near the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness. He grew up the fourth of seven children and practically was born with an instrument in his hands. Aguirre, who is 13 years Florez's junior, grew up around him and said he always had a microphone in his hand.
He formed the mariachi group The Casinos, but after members left or passed, Aguirre said he lost interest in playing. She partnered with him, playing accordion or drums, and the duo became iconic performing throughout the community.
Local author Denise Chavez, owner of Casa Camino Real Bookstore, said she and Florez were artists together in Las Cruces. They would help each other when needed.
"I hired him to be a guest musician and he donated his time. He was generous and kind and donated his services to many events we had and I always knew that I could call him up and say 'Johnny, we need some music,' and he would often pop in with Isabel," Chavez said.
Florez never married or had children of his own, but his many nieces and nephews looked to him as another father figure. Pat and Angela Romero are two such nieces, who said their uncle was always there for his family — blood relations or not. Angela said he always had little treats for her.
"I remember my favorite thing is when he would play in Old Mesilla at the gazebo," she said. "My children were little — they were probably around three and four — and they used to go over there and they would sit with him and he would sing to them."
Over the years, Florez has had many hurdles to overcome, including cancer and housing instability. But his friend, Aguirre, was there with him through it all. She said that when her husband died, she lost her own interest in music, but Florez was there to encourage her — she wasn't alone.
"We both saved each other. That's why we are a team," she said. "Not only the musician talents, but I know his heart."
Aguirre said she hopes to place a memorial for Florez near Main Street, where they used to play music together so often. She also wants to get his music and photographs into a museum, so his impact will continue.
Funeral arrangements for Florez are being taken care of by Baca's Funeral Chapels. Service dates are not available at this time.
The family is asking for donations to Baca's to help with funeral costs. Aguirre's daughter also started a GoFundMe fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/f/on-behalf-of-johnny-florez-funeral-expenses to help with expenses.
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