Argentine folk singer has come a long way
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Desiderio Arce, a Bolivian Quechuan by birth, has come a long way from the Andes mining village where he was born.
Now retired from an illustrious career as folk singer, he looks back on a life filled with Church service and helping raise the profile of the Church in Argentina and Bolivia. He and his wife, Nelly Aguilar de Arce, are members of the Cerritos 3rd Ward, Salta Argentina Stake. They are the parents of eight children and they have five grandchildren. Three of their children have served missions, and both married children were married in the temple. Another daughter, Liliana, is serving in the Argentina Mendoza Mission.
Brother Arce was born in the small town of Quiriza, Bolivia. Quiriza is a small mining town near the Bolivia-Argentine border in the department of Potosi. There, Brother Arce spent his early years tending flocks of sheep and goats on the steep hillsides of the Andes.
The boy showed an early interest in music and learned from his parents to sing Quechua folk songs. At age 10, he left home and began making his own way in life and gained his first schooling in the nearby village of La Quiaca. During this time he acquired a guitar and taught himself to play. He developed his now well-known singing style, and a penchant for performing.
While performing in La Quiaca, he was discovered as a major talent by one of Argentina's most famous folk groups, La Voces de Huira, which invited him to join. He performed with this group for 10 years. During this time he moved to Salta, Argentina, where he met Nelly Aguilar, and they were married.
Not long after they were married, missionaries came to their home. They gave the couple a copy of the Book of Mormon. Knowledgable in the folk history of indigenous people where he was born, the young singer was immediately interested in the Book of Mormon's message that Jesus Christ came to the Americas to preach. They accepted the gospel and on March 22, 1961, they were baptized and became part of a small branch of pioneer members. They helped in the construction of the first meetinghouse in Salta.
Doors of opportunity for singing continued to open for him. He traveled with the singing group and became well-known during this time.
In 1966, Pres. Richard G. Scott, now of the Quorum of the Twelve, presided over the North Argentine Mission, which included southern Bolivia. He sent the first missionaries to Quiriza. In this high Andes area, the people lived by agriculture and did not have electricity, running water or medical facilities. The Arce family willingly returned to live in Quiriza and assisted the missionaries in becoming established. In so doing, Brother Acre temporarily left behind his career and helped with the construction of the first meetinghouse there.
The singing group at this time were known nationally, and many opportunities to perform awaited them.
"I spoke with my three companions of the group, and continued with them until my wife and I left. They could not believe that I would leave all the opportunities that were available at this time."
The Arce family lived in Quiriza for several years. After they returned from Bolivia to Salta, Argentina, Brother Arce was invited to sing a solo at the well-known festival, Cosquin. He sang a famous folk song, and then a religious song of his own composition. A hush fell over the crowd as he sang. Desiderio Arce, the singer, was back.
Other opportunities soon followed and Brother Arce was able to resume his singing career until his retirment, and as an expert in Argentine folklore.
There is now a branch in Quiriza, according to Pres. Timothy Lee Parker of the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, who also served as a missionary in the village. a The branch has about 100 members, and the Tupiza District in that area has about 1,400 members. About 1,000 of them are Quechua-speaking.
For Brother Arce, his life as a Latter-day Saint continues to bring the rich rewards of dedicated service.