Beloved mu­si­cian, 24, was a master ac­cor­dion player

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Nancy Flores nflo­res@states­man.com

Austin’s mu­sic com­mu­nity is mourn­ing the loss of mu­si­cal prodigy An­thony Or­tiz Jr., who died this week af­ter a 10-month bat­tle with cancer. He was 24.

Once Or­tiz Jr. learned how to play the ac­cor­dion as a 10-year-old, he never looked back. The ris­ing ac­cor­dion star went on to master the in­stru­ment, per­form in mari­achi and coun­try bands and earn a loyal fan base.

“He picked up mu­sic so quick,” said his fa­ther, An­thony Or­tiz Sr. “It was amaz­ing.”

The Austin High School grad­u­ate came from a long line of mu­si­cal ta­lent. His great-grand­par­ents were mi­grant farm­work­ers who sang and played the vi­o­lin. Or­tiz Jr.’s grand­fa­ther, Lupe Or­tiz, gained fame in the Texas mu­sic scene of the 1960s with the band “Shorty and the Corvettes.”

In an in­ter­view with the Ac­cor­dion Amer­i­cana Project, Or­tiz Jr. cred­ited his fa­ther for in­flu­enc­ing his mu­si­cal style. “I taught him one song,” Or­tiz Sr. said. “But he soon ex­ceeded me and be­came my teacher.”

Or­tiz Jr., an Austin Com­mu­nity Col­lege stu­dent, played with the fam­ily mari­achi band Mari­achi Cor­be­tas with his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther. He also per­formed as a mem­ber of the coun­try band Crooks.

“To us, he was the shin­ing ex­am­ple of op­ti­mism, youth, hap­pi­ness, love, un­bend­ing friend­ship, hu­mor and most of all, good will,” the band wrote on its Face­book page. In 2008 and 2009, Or­tiz Jr. was a fi­nal­ist in the statewide ac­cor­dion com­pe­ti­tion the Big Squeeze, which fea­tures ac­cor­dion play­ers un­der 21 who play ev­ery­thing from Te­jano mu­sic to zy­deco. His skills also were high­lighted in a film about the com­pe­ti­tion.

The squeeze­box sa­vant con­nected with the Emma S. Bar­ri­en­tos Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Cul­tural Cen­ter while com­pet­ing in the Big Squeeze and he soon taught the ac­cor­dion to chil­dren at the cen­ter’s sum­mer camps. In 2012, the MACC honored Or­tiz Jr. with an Award of Ex­cel­lence in the emerg­ing artist cat­e­gory.

“We will al­ways cher­ish his mem­ory and the in­valu­able im­pact he made at the ESBMACC as an artist, teacher and friend,” the cul­tural cen­ter said in a state­ment. “We are heart­bro­ken.”

Last year, Or­tiz Jr. wrote a mes­sage in a crowd­fund­ing site cre­ated by his friends to raise money for his treat­ment. The site also al­lowed him to share health up­dates.

“Those of you who know me,” he wrote, “know that mu­sic is my num­ber one pas­sion, and I can’t wait to get back on the stage to per­form.” Or­tiz Jr. signed his name and added “aka Mr. Squeeze­box” next to it.

Friends,fansand­fam­i­ly­have filled Or­tiz Jr.’s so­cial me­dia pages with re­mem­brances prais­ing his en­ergy, en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion for mu­sic.

Memo­rial ser­vices at Mis­sion Fu­neral Home on East Ce­sar Chavez are pend­ing.

LAURA SKELDING / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2008

An­thony Or­tiz Jr. played with the fam­ily mari­achi band and was as a mem­ber of the coun­try band Crooks.

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