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Méndez was born in Jiquilpan, Michoacán, Mexico. As a young child, he was the cornetist for Pancho Villa. His most famous recording, "Moto Perpetuo", was written in the eighteenth century by Niccolò Paganini for violin and features Mendez double-tonguing continuously for over 4 minutes while circular breathing to give the illusion that he is not taking a natural breath while playing.
From 1950 to 1975, Méndez was a full-time soloist, performing as many as 125 concerts per year. He was also very active as a recording artist, with many of his recordings now available on compact disc. He contributed to the films Flying Down to Rio and Hondo, among others.
Méndez was legendary for his tone, range, technique and unparalleled double tonguing. His playing was characterized by a brilliant tone, wide vibrato and clean, rapid articulation. His repertoire was a mixture of classical, popular, jazz, and Mexican folk music. He contributed many arrangements and original compositions to the trumpet repertoire. His Scherzo in D minor is often heard in recitals, and has been recorded by David Hickman.
The music building of Arizona State University, which houses the Rafael Méndez Library, was established in 1993.
In 2006, the Los Angeles Opera paid tribute to Rafael Mendez by performing a work based on his life. A reviewer in The Los Angeles Times noted, "He has been called the greatest trumpet player of all time."
- Rafael Méndez - Music Biography, Credits and Discography : AllMusic
- "Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Legendary Trumpet Player Rafael Méndez". e-Notes, the online newsletter of the School of Music, Arizona State University. Archived from the original on 2006-09-04. Retrieved 2006-04-23.
- Swed, Mark (October 16, 2006). "The top of the brass, Los Angeles Opera offers a work based on the life of Rafael Mendez, a trumpeter of effortless virtuosity and big musical personality.". The Los Angeles Times (Music Review). Retrieved 28 April 2014.
- Rafael Méndez Online Library at Arizona State University with free mp3 sound clips
- Rafael Méndez at AllMusic
- Rafael Méndez discography at Discogs
- Rafael Méndez at the Internet Movie Database
- Rafael Méndez at Find a Grave
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