Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán was founded in 1897 by Don Gaspar Vargas in the city of Tecalitlán, to the south of Jalisco, Mexico. Since 1950 it has been under the artistic guidance of Rubén Fuentes. Don José "Pepe" Martínez was the group’s musical director from 1975 to 2014. The ensemble is currently under the direction of Carlos Martínez (former director of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán). This performance marks the ensemble’s debut under San Francisco Symphony auspices.
The group’s original formation included guitarra de golpe (or mariachera), wooden harp, and two violins. This combination of instruments established the Sonido Tecalitlán which distinguished itself from the Sonido Cocula (which uses the guitarrón and the vihuela in place of the harp and the guitarra de golpe).
In 1931 Gaspar Vargas turned the leadership of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán over to his son, Silvestre who further expanded the group. The ensemble won first place in mariachi contests in Guadalajara in 1933 and in Mexico City in 1934. President Lázaro Cárdenas appointed the group as the official mariachi of the Mexico City Police Department and the group moved to Mexico City where they remained for twenty years.
In 1937, Mariachi Vargas appeared in Asi es mi tierra, the first of its more than 200 motion pictures, including many of Pedro lnfante's films. In that same year they made their first recording and signed an exclusive contract with RCA. Mariachi Vargas has since produced more than fifty recordings of Huastecos sones, waltzes, popurris, polkas, huapangos, and cumbias. The group continued its evolution throughout the 1950s under the guidance of violinist Rubén Fuentes, who still works with the group as producer, musical arranger, and musical director.
In 1986, Linda Ronstadt appeared with Mariachi Vargas at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference where she sang in Spanish for the first time. This was followed by the release in 1987 of the Grammy-winning album Canciones de mi padre, featuring Mariachi Vargas. She also went on a national tour with the group, giving greater international exposure to mariachi music than ever before and creating a new audience for mariachi music among non-Hispanics.
In 1997, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán celebrated 100 years since its founding. The ensemble’s latest recordings include 5ta Generación, Sinfónico I and II, and Penas, Desengaños. . . y Amores. Today the group is composed of two harps, one vihuela, one guitar, one guitarrón, two trumpets, and six violins, creating a new sound that crosses international borders.