Chata Gutierrez was a salsa DJ legend and Mission District icon who fought for recognition — and pure enjoyment — of Latin music via the KPOO and KPFA airwaves. She died Tuesday morning in the hospital after a 12-year battle with liver cancer — continuing her salsa show until just a few weeks before her death. She was 60.
“She broke a lot of barriers for Raza women and for the movement of world music — from Cuban music to Puerto Rican music to local music,” said long-time friend Ray Balbaran.
Described as a fierce revolutionary, Gutierrez was a pioneer of Latin music in the 70s as the Latino community struggled to carve out an identity in San Francisco. “Now Latin music is very much a part of public radio, but it wasn’t then,” said Emiliano Echeverria, a cohost and close friend. “We had to go through a lot of struggle just to be heard back 40 years ago. And Chata had a whole lot to do with seeing to it that our voices got heard.”
Gutierrez’s legacy was “Con Clave” on KPOO, the longest continuously-running Latin music program in the Bay Area. Her show racked up loyal fans and accolades, including the local Tom Donahue Radio Award in 1977 and was voted “Best Salsa Radio Show” in 2000 by SF Weekly. (“If her sensuous voice weren’t interrupted by the best salsa on the airwaves, you’d wish she’d just talk for four hours straight,” read the prize.)
Gutierrez got her start in radio at KPFA, a Berkeley-based radio station, in 1972 when she met Echeverria, who was a DJ at the station. Gutierrez — just 18 at the time — was one of several workers scheduled to be interviewed that evening about her work at the Centro De Cambio, a drug counseling organization. But Gutierrez was immediately attracted by the radio control room, and decided to help Echeverria air the show rather than go on the air herself. She was fascinated by the control room and asked him to teach her how to create radio shows. He showed her the ropes. “She took to it like a duck takes to the water,” Echeverria remembers. “She picked up that microphone and she knew what she wanted to do.”
Echeverria and Gutierrez soon began “Unidos,” a late-night radio show featuring salsa, oldies and R&B. Gutierrez began hosting Con Clave at KPOO in 1979 and worked stints at KPFA through the 90s. Con Clave ran every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. up until just a few weeks before her death on December 17, 2013.
“She is probably one of the gutsiest women you would have ever met in your life,” Echeverria said. “To have the terrible suffering she was going through and every week to get herself up — as sick as she was — to go do that show, shows her dedication to her community.”
Gutierrez’s parents immigrated to San Francisco from the Mexican state of Michoacan. A lifelong Missionite, she was born on March 4, 1953 at St. Luke’s Hospital and named Micaela; “Chata” or “pug face” was a nickname from infancy that she’d go by for the rest of her life. Gutierrez attended Edison Grammar School, James Lick Middle School and Mission High School.
Her radio show — which drew listeners ranging from teens to jamming viejitos — often included community speakers between tracks, and drifted from Spanish to English to Spanglish. “She’s a pocha,” Echeverria said. “She was born in this country but raised in two different cultures. She was comfortable shifting from James Brown to salsa.”
Community radio was Gutierrez’s passion — but an unpaid one. She also DJed around the Bay Area, and worked as a journeywoman ornamental plasterer, helping restore City Hall in the 90s. She was briefly married in the 70s, and has an adult daughter, Quetzali Cortazar.
Emiliano Echeverria will dedicate a KPOO program to Gutierrez this Friday from 9 to 12 p.m. Friends and family will be flying in from across the country to talk about Chata and her love for Latin music and the Mission. In 2011, the Mission Cultural Center hosted a fundraiser to help her medical bills for the cancer that she faced with a stoic resignation. “Her concern was not about dying,” Echeverria says. “Her concern was making sure she got that next program out.”
Listen to Gutierrez’s archived “Con Clave” programs here.
Chata is not gone la Mural vive en la Misión. Her voice will never be silent. I knew her for years our music is stronger because of her. I just feel very fortunate to have shared times with this dynamic woman
ON A JOURNEY, iLL;
MY DREAM GOES WANDERING
OVER WITHERED FIELDS.
GOD BLESS YOU CHATA. THANK YOU FOR ALL THE SALSA PROGRAMS, PARTIES THAT YOU DJ’D AND MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR ALL THE GOOD TIMES THAT YOU GAVE ALL OF US AROUND THE BAY. TE LLEVAS MUCHO AMOR Y CARIÑO DE TODAS LAS PERSONAS QUE TE CONOCIERON. GRACIAS CHATA.
Chata made a big difference in my life: every week, for many, many years. I’m very thankful for all she gave. I’m also thankful that I met her “by chance” this summer. What a presence on this earth she had.
So sorry to hear you passed Chata. My condolences to your familia, friends and KPOO listeners. I didn’t know you personally Chata but your personality came through the radio in such a way that I felt you were a personal friend. I heard you on KPFA, in years past, as well. Chata, you were the purveyor of Saturday afternoon happiness. I knew, that no matter how my weekend had started or was going, that you were gonna inject some Salsa joy into it between noon and 4. You offered up so much great music over so many years! Thank you Chata for how you gave to the world and, personally, how you enriched my life. Gracias!!! Descansa en paz.
Thank You Chata for all the years of Listing pleasure.
Thank You Chata for all the years.
I loved to listen to Chata program on Saturdays. She always filled those weekend days with the joy of her music.
I will miss you Chata!
MICAELA “CHATA” GUTIERREZ
MARCH 4,1953-DEC.17TH 2013(6:30a.m.)
SHE WILL BE HONORED WITH A CELEBRATION OF HER LIFE !
PLEASE BRING AN ITEM FOR HER ALTAR.
SERVICES WILL BE HELD ON
SUNDAY DEC. 29TH 2013
DRISCOLL’S VALENCIA STREET SERRA MORTUARY
1465 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
(A Mass before memorial TBA)
Chata would have loved for the community to:
Please make donations to
San Francisco Ca.94115
FOLLOWING THE CEREMONY MEMORIAL WILL BE A
SLAMMING SALSA PARTY AT
3140 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Quezali and her family Thank everyone who will celebrate Chata!!
Chata was golden. I had the honor of hanging out with her. Dios te bendiga. Saludame a Celia, Tito, Hector Lavoe, Benny More y mami y papi que estoy segura andan bailando en la pachanga eterna! Paz
I lost my BFF and miss Chata who I have known for nearly 50 years, worked at Centro de Cambio and she trained me in radio where we shared a radio show and I went on to do a Polynesian Program. This is a huge loss to the SF Latin Music and Mission Community. and to me. She is missed and never forgotten. I Love and will always miss you dearly Chata…We have been so close this year because we share common issues. Thanks Emilliano and KPOO. To all our members of the Mission Organizations ….We had our first kids at the same time. I love and miss you so bad. Celine……
Rip my friend
I would suggest that the Mission Cultural Center be renamed to ” Chata Gutierrez Memorial Center of the Arts”. This would be a fitting tribute to someone who brought to much to Mission from her community activism to the music she spun on the air waves.
Robert Dwight excellent tribute!
As a fellow KPOO DJ I know the loyalty she had to the station and especially the city of San Francisco. She will be missed greatly and her work is an inspiration to many people including myself.
Rest in Peace Chata
This is sad news. Many blessings and prayers for Chata’s spirit in transition, her family and friends. One time I called her during the show to compliment her on her sexy voice…she was so professional, polite and smooth. So much good music. Thanks Chata & KPOO!
Chata Guitierrez Presente! Her name and her contributions to our City will live on.
Chata brought culture and ambiance to our Bahia.
She will always be cherished and never forgotten.