María Mendiola, half of a chart-topping disco duo, dies at 69

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María Mendiola, half of a chart-topping disco duo, dies at 69
“Yes Sir, I Can Boogie,” which she and a fellow ballet dancer recorded under the name Baccara, became one of the disco anthems of the 1970s.

by Raphael Minder

MADRID.- María Mendiola, a member of the Spanish duo Baccara, whose “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” became one of the disco anthems of the 1970s, died here Sept. 11. She was 69.

Her death, in a hospital, was confirmed by her family. They did not give the exact cause but said that she had been dealing with a blood deficiency for two decades.

Baccara, the duo of Mendiola and Mayte Mateos, achieved instant fame with “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie,” the first song they ever recorded, which was released in 1977 and went on to become the most successful disco song by a female duo. It sold about 18 million copies worldwide and topped the charts in Britain, Japan and several other countries.

Mendiola and Mateos were dancers with the company of Spain’s national television broadcaster when they met. At the suggestion of Mendiola, who thought that their careers would last longer if they switched to singing, they left to form their own act, originally called Venus, which began performing in 1976. Their debut, at a club in Zaragoza, was short-lived: The management fired them for being “too elegant” — another way of saying that they refused to do lap dances for the club’s patrons.

The duo appeared for the first time on television in 1977. Their breakthrough came that same year after a chance encounter with Leon Deane of RCA Records, who saw them perform in a hotel while he was on vacation in the Canary Islands and suggested they visit RCA’s recording studios in Hamburg, Germany.

RCA agreed to produce Baccara’s first album and included “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie,” an English-language song whose rights the label already owned, although it had not yet assigned it to any of its artists.

Baccara spent four years with RCA and released four albums, including several other songs that ranked high on the international charts, although none matched the success of their first hit. The duo also toured worldwide, including in the Soviet Union. In performance, Mendiola always dressed in white and Mateos in black.

But the two singers had a major fallout in 1980 over who should be the lead voice on their song “Sleepy Time Toy.” Mendiola filed a lawsuit to block the song, which had just been released and had to be withdrawn from the market.

The singers continued their feud and stopped talking to each other, and the composer of most of their songs, Rolf Soja, decided to quit working with them. In 1981, Baccara released their final album with RCA, “Bad Boys”; coming at a time when the popularity of disco music was waning, it was not a big success. RCA did not renew Baccara’s recording contract, and the two singers formalized their split.

María Eugenia Martínez Mendiola was born April 4, 1952, in Madrid. Her mother, Lola Mendiola, was a homemaker; her father, Emilio Martínez, was a police official at the Madrid airport.

Mendiola studied at an Italian school in Madrid and trained to be a ballet dancer at the national school there before joining the Spanish state broadcaster’s dance troupe.

Even though both singers were Spanish, Baccara represented Luxembourg in the 1978 Eurovision song contest, with a song about a holiday romance called “Parlez-Vous Français?” (Mendiola spoke five languages, including French.) Luxembourg’s entry finished seventh in the competition.

After Baccara broke up, the two singers pursued separate careers. In 1981, Mendiola formed another duo, New Baccara, with another former ballet dancer, Marisa Pérez. Although they never came close to matching the fame of the original Baccara, one of their songs, “Call Me Up,” was a hit in Spain in 1987 and also did well in Germany.

Pérez ended her career in 2008 because of an illness, and a niece, Laura Mendiola, replaced her as Mendiola’s partner. In 2010, María Mendiola formed a final partnership — Baccara Featuring María Mendiola — with another singer, Cristina Sevilla, who had previously collaborated for six years with Mateos. Their most recent single, “Gimme Your Love,” was released in 2018.

Sevilla said that she had planned to continue with Mendiola, but that the pandemic had put their most recent concert projects on hold.

“María was a powerful woman, who was always laughing even in the difficult moments,” Sevilla said. “Apart from being my partner, she was my real friend.”

Mendiola is survived by a son, Jimmy Lim, and three grandchildren.

“Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” had an unexpected revival, thanks to a Scottish soccer player, Andrew Considine, who had danced to the song at his bachelor party. Last year, a video of him and other players dancing to the song went viral, which inspired a cover version of the song by the Fratellis, a rock band in Glasgow, Scotland. The song also became an unofficial soccer anthem in Scotland, belted out by fans in the stadium during the recent European championships.

Although Scotland and soccer put Baccara back in the spotlight, Mendiola told the British news media that she wasn’t impressed by the Scottish version of the chart-topping song. It was, she said, “not my cup of tea.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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