- Associated Press - Monday, April 13, 2015

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Fernando Herrera’s magical musical moment with John F. Kennedy lasted 17 minutes. That’s how long the San Antonio musician and a few other performers would entertain the president in Houston just hours before his tragic death.

Now that memory will be immortalized in film, along with the very car Kennedy rode in during his brief visit to the Alamo City the day before his assassination in Dallas in 1963.

Herrera is the subject of “Kennedy’s Last Song: The New Frontier,” a documentary featuring the guitarist and pianist who would be the last musician ever to perform for the president. Los Angeles director/executive producer Steven Barber and producing partner/co-director Matthew Hausle recently were in town to film Herrera, along with that sprawling 1963 Lincoln Continental, for the finishing touches on the film that should be released later this year.

“It was just this unprecedented historical evening, full of love and joy and song. That is really the story,” Barber told the San Antonio Express-News (http://bit.ly/1aPleuH ). “We all know the story of Nov. 22 (in) Dallas. But very few people know the story of the LULAC event the night before, and Fernando Herrera.”

Kennedy was scheduled for a two-day, five-city Texas tour to build momentum for his 1964 re-election bid. He spent two hours and 25 minutes in San Antonio before heading to Houston.

Herrera traveled to Houston to play for that League of United Latin American Citizens event, which unfolded Nov. 21, 1963, at the Grand Ballroom of the Rice Hotel. Herrera played mostly Spanish guitar in a duo with another guitarist, playing flamenco and rumba flamenca, right behind President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy - with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, also in attendance.

Herrera recalled the night as very patriotic yet also multicultural, with the Kennedys and Johnsons showered in shouts of “Ole!” and the first lady addressing the gathering in Spanish. The night was punctuated by the president turning to Herrera at the end of the performance to shake his hand with both of his, followed by the first lady’s own gracious handshake with a warm “Gracias.”

“Lady Bird was dancing,” said Herrera, 85. “Oh, it was beautiful.”

Barber got the idea for “Kennedy’s Last Song” in the summer of 2013, the 50th anniversary year of Kennedy’s death. Barber happened to be in San Antonio shooting “American Blade Runner,” a film about U.S. Paralympian Blake Leeper, better known as the American Blade Runner for the prosthetics he wears since he’s missing both legs below the knee.

While on his own jog in town, Barber happened upon the pink home of local artist Luis Lopez. Barber figured the Tobin Hill home would make a good backdrop for a Leeper photo shoot. Lopez obliged, and also invited Barber and his crew to a barbecue. That’s when Barber met Herrera and latched onto his memorable moment with the Kennedys.

Barber revisited Lopez’s home a few months later to capture Herrera’s memories on film. Herrera had also shared those memories for “JFK: The Final Hours,” which debuted on the National Geographic Channel in November 2013 as part of that year’s many commemorative programs.

As for securing the vehicle Kennedy rode in through San Antonio, Barber would only say that its wealthy anonymous owner lent it for use with a flat-bed delivery from Austin to Lopez’s home.

“That’s just Texas hospitality for you,” Barber said.

Barber said the JFK component of the film was not only to chronicle what he called “this last moment in Camelot” but also to tell Herrera’s story - that of “this very humble, incredible artist” who has played with the Boston Pops Orchestra and entertained throngs at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and the King of Spain himself, Juan Carlos I, when he visited San Antonio in 1987.

And as far as Herrera’s concerned, if he can entertain a president of the United States, then anyone can make their own historic moment.

“Keep practicing and be ready,” Herrera said. “Always be ready.”

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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