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'60s singer Trini Lopez, 83, dies while battling coronavirus

The “If I Had a Hammer” singer was mentored by Frank Sinatra and opened for the Beatles.
Image: Trini Lopez
Trini Lopez in 1998.Peter Bischoff / Getty Images file

Singer Trini Lopez, who enjoyed a heyday in the 1960s with hits including “If I Had a Hammer” and “This Land Is Your Land,” died Tuesday from complications related to coronavirus, collaborators said. He was 83.

Lopez had been in and out of a hospital setting for about six weeks before dying about 5 a.m. at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California, said songwriting partner Joe Chavira.

Filmmaker P. David Ebersole, who just finished shooting a documentary on Lopez with Todd Hughes, confirmed the death to the Associated Press.

Image: Trini Lopez, Joe Chavira
From left, Singer Trini Lopez works with songwriter partner Joe Chavira.Courtesy Joe Chavira

Chavira, who said he met Lopez n 2015, said the singer never married and had no children.

The last song Lopez wrote with Chavira, "If By Now," was performed for a half-hour coronavirus fundraiser expected to air over the weekend on local television in Chavira's home city of Santa Barbara, he said.

"He passed trying to tell people about COVID," he said.

Chavira said that he was unable to see his friend in his last days because he was hospitalized in a virtual bubble but that the two were able to communicate by phone.

Chavira said he called four days ago, but was told Lopez was not responsive. He asked a nurse to hold the phone to the singer's ear and he said, in an Alvin and the Chipmunks-style voice, "Hey Trini, it’s your amigo, Joe," he said.

Lopez reacted with laughter, and his family asked Chavira to repeat the trick when they called, he said.

The singer was born Trinidad Lopez III to Mexican immigrants in Dallas. Mark Guerrero, son of famed Chicano musician Lalo Guerrero, has written that he met Lopez in the 1990s and that his website bio of the singer was based on Lopez's storytelling.

It all started when his father, a onetime musician, bought Lopez a Gibson guitar for $12.

A break came when rock 'n' roll star Buddy Holly saw Lopez perform and introduced him to his entourage. After Holly's death in 1959, Lopez was asked to perform with the pop star's band, the Crickets, so he moved to Los Angeles and eventually embarked on a series of solo club gigs in the early 1960s.

At one club, Frank Sinatra saw him perform and signed him to his label, Reprise, for an eight-year term, Guerrero wrote. The deal produced the hits “If I Had a Hammer,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “Lemon Tree."

He received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1963.

Guerrero describes the Trini Lopez sound as one influenced by folk music but with a Latin flare.

Lopez opened for the Beatles in Paris for show series in 1963 and later developed a friendship with Elvis Presley.

In 1964, Gibson created a Trini Lopez model that the guitar makers says on its website "is also favored by many other famous musicians from Dave Grohl to Noel Gallagher." Gibson later reissued the instrument and offered it for $5,499.

In 1969, Lopez recorded a music-filled special, "The Trini Lopez Show," that aired on NBC.

Lopez performed full-time until 1981. His music was featured in multiple television and big-screen productions, including "Apollo 13."

Filmmaker Todd Hughes said by email that he and Ebersole had hoped to release their Lope documentary in early 2021 but might debut it sooner. "It is so tragic he won't be around for it," he said.