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Six Dearly Departed Iconic Angelenos We’d Put On Our Dia de Muertos Altar

Commemorating a handful of our favorite influential Southern Californians on Dia De Los Muertos.

1:46 PM PDT on November 2, 2023

photo: Hadley Tomicki

Courtesy of Art Laboe.

Art Laboe (1925-2022)

Music is a magical porthole to unknown worlds and distant moments when memories are crystalized and forever burned into our synapses. Art Laboe was its Morpheus, bridging the sentiments of oldies-worshipping L.A. onto one giant ephemeral trip into the last century, rekindling the flames of lovers separated by time, distance, and prison doors through his heartbreaking dedications along the way.

Through 16 years of his radio show, “The Art Laboe Connection,” and over untold dozens of radio transmissions, albums, and live events Laboe hosted since his broadcast debut in the war-time San Francisco of 1943, the nonagenarian deity of a disc jockey wove timeless pop ballads, soul classics, and romantic appeals together.

Bookended by his on-air dedications from listeners professing eternal devotion—whether aimed at a sweetheart in Corcoran, Folsom, or Delano correctional facilities—he united the Southwest for six hours every Sunday in a send-off to the weekend that was steeped in glorious nostalgia for long-gone summer nights and the blown chances and bad decisions that sealed our ultimate fates.

It only takes a whisper of Laboe’s name to bring one specific classic or another to a devotee’s mind. Doo-wop-dipped ditties and pained pop love letters that jet us back to the past, evoking make-out points, break-ups between bad boys and sad girls, and slow, low cruises through suburban Valley and urban East L.A. boulevards, oldies harmonizing from the speakers of oversized U.S.-issued chariots. ~ Hadley Tomicki

Chris “SPANTO” Printup  (1981-2023)

Graffiti writers spray-painted his name all over the city. Spanto’s passing comes close to a decade after launching Born X Raised with Alex “2Tone” Erdmann in 2013.

“I tell the story of the kids that grew up here, not these out-of-town weirdos,” said Spanto. 

He embodied authenticity, hope, and creativity in the purest form. Spanto grew up in Venice, which is unrecognizable now. Nothing changed, but time for him. He was cool before Venice was cool. 

Spanto was a man of the people and a true fighter. He was both a student and a teacher, both inspiring those around him and learning every day. Spanto was diagnosed with terminal T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer. A doctor told him he faced a 95% mortality rate. When diagnosed with cancer, he not only beat it once but twice. 

Through Born X Raised, Printup and Erdmann collaborated with iconic brands that included Los Angeles Dodgers, L.A. Rams, Lakers, Levi’s, and recently Nike SB. 

His Apache and Seneca spirit pushed boundaries and put Native Americans on top with recent Levi’s and Nike collaborations. His native pride was so deeply rooted in everything he did. He was monumental in breaking barriers for the indigenous community in fashion and all aspects of the world. 

To me, Spanto was like an uncle, constantly giving constructive criticism and a bunch of “back in my day” speeches. But I’d like to think that all the time spent near him, I have a percentage of his fighting spirit. 

There are so many elements of his character that continue to inspire so many people. The natural person was more complex & more than a clothing brand. That person deserves to be remembered as a father, son, friend, husband, and mentor. 

The legacy he leaves behind is one of love, resiliency, and never-ending like the sunsets in Venice. 

FROM THE EAST SIDE WITH LOVE TO THE KING OF VENICE. SPANTO LIVES.

-Yaileen Ramos 

Nectali “Sumo Hair” Diaz 1980 - 2022

On the early morning of July 30th last year, the birdsong echoing through the swaying palm trees in the concrete jungle known as Los Angeles was somber as friends, fans, and family woke up to the devastating news that prolific, self-taught Afro-diasporic DJ Nectali “Sumohair” Diaz left this earth. He died tragically in an e-scooter accident in downtown Los Angeles, but his presence remains. Nectali was a beloved son, brother, uncle, friend, collaborator, artist, educator, and inspiration to many who crossed paths with him and experienced his bold spirit. He was the embodiment of a cultural revolution and a multifaceted human. He was the driving force behind Reyna Tropical and taught many people how to cut hair. 

Nectali was raised in Long Beach in the 90s, a humbling urban coastal environment in Los Ángeles County that shaped his street smarts and barrio-rooted approach to music and life. He graduated from Lakewood High School, where he was a champion wrestler.

Nectali’s infinite passion for tropical culture lives on in the countless tracks he produced throughout the last decade of his career and for his breakout band. His untimely death is felt far and wide, from his hometown community of Long Beach, where he was raised, all the way to Latin America’s tropical music scene, a tight-knit community that revered him for his ability to create innovative, highly catchy beats by weaving together atmospheric sounds of birds chirping and Afro-Indigenous instruments.

Rest In Peace, Nectali Diaz. Your próxima estación is esperanza.

-Javier Cabral

Heull Burnley Howser 1945 - 2013

There was a period in California’s history when the media and politicians were busy demonizing people who didn’t fit their mold. They went after Latinos with Prop 187 and also black folks with Prop 209. It was an ugly period filled with prejudices and intolerance that still linger today. But Heull Howser stood apart from it all. Where other channels showed anger and criticism towards people, Heull approached them with an innocent and inviting curiosity. And through his show, California’s Gold, he showed our state, if not the nation, that the real jewels of California are its people.

He embodied acceptance, curiosity, and love for one another. He grew up in Tennessee, where he went to the University of Tennessee, serving his time in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and traveled around exploring his own talents as a singer, writer, producer, and actor before landing in California.

Perhaps the greatest example of his nature and effect was the episode when he was genuinely curious about lowrider culture during a time period when lowriders were criminalized, cruising was banned, and police were looking for any reason to profile Latinos. In this episode, he showed the real side of lowrider life, the art, the culture, and the fun. In a time when the mainstream was promoting fear of others, Heull was demonstrating love for their differences. 

We miss people like Heull, especially today when we seem to find more reasons to hate each other than to respect and admire one another. RIP Heull Howser. You were Amazing!

- Memo Torres

Photo via: Nipsey Hussle Instagram

Nipsey Hussle 1985- 2019

You can’t talk about people who influenced L.A. culture without mentioning Ermias Ashgedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle. Forget influence, he embodied L.A. culture and his tragic death would come to shake Los Angeles to the core. The Crenshaw native never shied away from repping his city in his lyrics, way of being, and even with his clothes, opening a clothing shop in South L.A. called The Marathon Clothing. 

Anyone who describes Nip will tell you that he was not just from the community but he was always about helping uplift his community as well. Since the beginning of his rap career, he has always represented the Crenshaw District. 

He is mainly known for giving love to the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, love that he showed in music, from  his 2005 debut mixtape titled "Slauson Boy" to his mixtape titled "Crenshaw."

The rapper is known for helping revive the beloved Mid-City roller rink World on Wheels in 2017, cementing his status as a leader on the streets of Los Angeles. He also invested in the 59th Street Elementary School, where he gave out shoes to all of the students; he also renovated its basketball courts and playground.

His commitment to not only bettering himself but his community as a whole, his wisdom and his hustle mentality were (aside from his music) one of the greatest gifts Hussle left us all. 

- Janette Villafana

Raul Martinez Sr. 1942 - 2013

In 1972, Raul Martinez Sr. brought a corn tortilla from Mexico City that would change Los Angeles forever: the two-bite, four-and-a-half-inch, taquería-sized corn tortilla. Martinez was the eldest sibling out of nine total: five sisters and four brothers. “My brother was a great man. He could do anything. His brother, Adolfo Martinez, who opened El Taurino in Koreatown, said, “My brother was a great man. He could do anything. In his lifetime, he learned to do everything,” in an interview with L.A. TACO about his brother’s legacy. To this day, the Martinez brothers' red and green salsas are still believed to be the best in the city. It inspired the delicious red and green salsas at Los Dorados L.A. as well since Steven Orozco married into the taquero royalty and started his independent project.   

-Javier Cabral

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