This obituary has been updated with details on the memorial service and burial.
Juan and Petra Gonzales gave a Victrola record player to their 6-year-old daughter Juanita back in 1933. Young Juanita never stopped listening to music, and according to those who knew her, never forgot a single song.
Juanita Gonzales Esparza, known throughout San Antonio and among Tejano and conjunto music legends simply as “Janie,” died peacefully at home surrounded by family late Wednesday at age 94, on the eve of her 95th birthday.
Janie’s Record Shop, her legacy of 36 years located on the West Side, will continue on under the leadership of daughter Rebecca Esparza Deleon and son Robert Esparza, the 11th and 12th respectively Esparza’s 14 children.
“Keeping her legacy going is important to us, and I know she would have wanted us to because this was her love,” Deleon said. “It needs to continue. People have so much respect for her, and they love her.”
Tributes began pouring on to social media platforms the moment people became aware of Esparza’s death.
Well-known Tejano and conjunto music legends offered condolences and appreciations, including Linda Escobar, who touted Esparza’s deep musical knowledge: “There was not a music question that she couldn’t answer. She knew all the history!”
Longtime friend Maricela Olguin posted on Facebook that she recalled “hearing a customer giving a few lines of a song, and within seconds [Janie] was able to tell them who sang it, what album it was off [of], and where he could find it.”
Deleon and her brother spoke of one particular youngster who became a favorite shop visitor. The young Norberto “Geremy” Landin stopped in one day in 2015 as a sophomore in college at St. Mary’s University, having inherited a record player from his grandfather. Without knowing her history, Landin sang a song for Esparza, who quickly identified it for him. Over the course of many visits, Landin would routinely try unsuccessfully to stump her.
“She’s got a photographic memory,” Robert Esparza said, using the present tense as he worked to remodel the store’s interior while surrounded by thousands of records on shelves and in boxes.
“We have a lot to thank her for. She was a great teacher, a great mentor,” Deleon said.
A 36th anniversary party held Aug. 1 raised money to help offset expenses for the remodel, to include a new floor, a new sign, and a stage that Robert Esparza said would be used for live music inside the store. A grand reopening is tentatively set to take place in mid- to late September, he said.
The Aug. 1 date was important to Esparza because it was her mother Petra’s birthday and the date she chose to open the store in 1985.
Deleon recounted how her mother had raised all 14 kids through high school, and only once that task was complete did she set out to pursue her dream of opening a record store.
Onetime KEDA radio station deejay Jose “Pepe” Sanchez said Janie’s Record Shop quickly became a valued resource, particularly among the Latino music community, whose recordings Esparza was sure to stock. The once popularly accessible formats of 45s, 8-tracks, cassettes, and compact discs of classic Tejano, conjunto, Norteño, and ranchera music still occupy the shop’s tables, racks, and display cases, and visitors to the store regularly come in to replenish old favorites or seek out new music.
Sanchez worked in the shop between 2003 and 2005, and said the musicians on those recordings could be commonly seen in the store browsing the selection and chatting about music with Esparza.
“Come over to Janie’s Record Shop,” Sanchez would frequently announce, “there’s no telling who you might meet.”
Deleon and her brother made the decision to open the shop as they regularly would on Thursday at 10 a.m., in part to honor the community their mother had built.
“As much as it hurts us losing our mother, we want to celebrate her. … She deserved that and more. And I think there’s so many people that want to pay their respects.”
Deleon chatted with customers as her brother took frequent phone calls. Precisely at noon, as it does each day, KEDA played the track Virgencita. “Mama loved this song,” Esparza said, recalling that it was his signal to serve her the daily iced tea she loved. After the song, the station began a series of dedications to Janie Esparza’s memory.
Though their mother was the recipient of many honors, including a Tejano Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, Deleon said Esparza was most notable for her humility. “Mama didn’t like to be in the limelight,” she said, and her son would have to accompany her onstage to persuade her to receive awards.
Mostly, Esparza was happy sitting in her favorite chair in the back of the store, cheerfully greeting all who entered.
Of the many lessons imparted by their legendary mother, Deleon said she most valued Esparza’s simple message, “La música es vida.”
A memorial visitation will take place Sept. 20 at the Castillo Funeral Home from 4-8 p.m., with rosary at 6 p.m. A Sunday 10 a.m. mass at St. Paul’s church will be followed by burial at San Fernando Cemetery No. 2.