No, not a Rodriguez. We all know at least half a dozen. The Rodriguez I am asking about is Sixto Rodriguez, AKA the 6th Prince from Detroit City. Sixto was born on July 10th, 1942, the 6th child to an immigrant working-class parent. We lost Sixto on August 8th, 2023, at the age of 82, and the cause of death was not reported. 

  To most, including myself, it did not even rank a look up from my computer. Pero, then I watched the Documentary Searching for Sugarman on HBO Max. I was totally blown away by his music and almost felt ashamed that I did not know anything about him, especially since I have a more than passing interest in all things Raza.

  However, as I learned in the Doc I referenced, I was not alone in my ignorance of him. Even though his voice and music were very Bob Dylan-like, only better, the music he performed and wrote himself was a lot about the working poor and the lives of all marginalized people. A world he knew firsthand growing up and a world he continued to be connected to till his death.

  He performed in neighborhood bars around Detroit in obscurity. They often described him as an almost mystical wandering spirit around Detroit. That is until a record producer happened to one of his performances. They signed him to a recording contract, and it appeared his music might make it out of the Motor City, much like so many others before and after. And for a while, he did in the late sixties and seventies, but it would not last. Maybe it was because he was performing under the name of Rodriguez, or his label was just lousy at promoting him. Quien Sabe (who knows). His album could have done better two weeks before Christmas. His label dropped him. Coincidentally, that was also a lyric in a song he wrote.

   That was the beginning of the end. Well, at least in the U.S. In South Africa and New Zealand, he was outselling Elvis. They considered his music in Africa the anthem music for the anti-apartheid movement. His music was everywhere there, and he was an inspiration for most new and up-and-coming artists.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit City, Sixto had now resolved to work in the demolition and construction business. He lived the life he sang about but never gave up the desire to stand up for the marginalized people in his community. He ran for public office several times at the city and state levels. And while he did not win, his message was heard, and others took up his work.

    Back in South Africa, his legend continued to grow. They reported that he had committed suicide on stage by dosing himself with gasoline. Some said he shot himself on stage or overdosed on some drug. It was not until two super fans set out to find out La Verda (the truth) that their story became the basis for the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugarman. Those fans are Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew. They became obsessed in their search for Sixto Rodriguez. They searched in several countries besides the U.S. for proof of his death or what happened to him. Rodriguez’s legend as a mystical figure to them and their countrymen continued to grow.

   Finally, a lyric in one of Rodriguez’s songs gave them a largely ignored clue. It referenced Dearborn, a small town outside of Detroit, so they centered their search there. And then the craziest of happenstance happened. They had a website dedicated to Rodriguez and their search for him, and one day, guess who stumbles on it? Eva, the oldest daughter of Sixto Rodriguez, one thing led to another, and finally, a phone call with Sixto. According to the documentary, the call came around 1:00  p.m. South Africa time, Stephen was asleep. And once the phone rang, his wife said, It’s him (paraphrasing). It’s him! It’s Rodriguez. He excitedly asked as many questions as he could, having just awakened.

   All this concluded with Sixto and his daughters arriving in Cape Cod for 2 or 3 days of sold-out concerts. The crowd reactions reminded me of the Beatles’ first visit to the U.S., except the crowd included all age groups. One of his daughters commented that she wondered how her dad would handle all the attention. Pero, according to her, it came very naturally to him, just like he had been doing all his life.

   To witness this, years later and unfortunately knowing that he was now gone, felt very emotional. And it took me a minute to figure out why after I did not know him. As I stated before, I had not even heard about him. The reception he received in South Africa really touched me. There was something about all those White people cheering for a Chicano that got to me. Maybe I thought he represented all the people in our community who have never got their deserved recognition. Perhaps because, unlike others, he received his well-deserved adulation while still alive. Maybe because his adult daughters finally got to see their father recognized, and they got to be a part of it.

  Yes, it was probably all these things and more, and really, my words cannot do the visual justice. I highly recommend you check this out because I only touched on the surface of his story. In my book, I had Carlos Santana as the coolest Raza artist. Sorry Carlos, for me, that is now Sixto Rodriguez, AKA the Sixth Prince. I invite you to listen to some of his songs like Sugarman, I Wonder, or Crucify Your Mind, and you will become a new fan, like me.

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