Salsa. Mambo. Rumba. Cha-cha-chá. The very names of Latin music genres suggest an irresistible, unmistakable rhythm. And through the decades, these distinctive musical styles have continually—and profoundly—influenced American popular music. Latino musicians helped shape many traditional genres of music in the United States, including jazz, R&B, rock ’n’ roll, and hip hop.



Latino musicians have had a profound influence on traditional genres of music in the United States, including jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop. At the same time, their experiences living in the United States triggered the creation of new musical traditions, such as mambo and salsa. “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian, presents the musical contributions of U.S. Latinos from the 1940s to the present, exploring the social history and individual creativity that produced stars like Tito Puente, Ritchie Valens, Celia Cruz, Carlos Santana and Selena.

The exhibition was created by Experience Music Project (EMP) and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). “American Sabor,” its national tour, and related programs are made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund. The exhibition will travel to 13 cities through 2015.



Divided into 5 sections, “American Sabor” explores the influence of Latino musicians in post-World War II America through the lens of major centers of Latino music production—New York, San Antonio, San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles.

Based on the 5,000 square foot exhibition of the same name created by EMP in partnership with the University of Washington, “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” is a 2,500 square foot experience designed for smaller museums and cultural centers

Two films made specifically for the exhibition bring Latino music and dance to life. Each short film features performance footage and filmed interviews with artists and experts, and the narratives examine key events in the history of post-World War II Latino music. The Palladium Ballroom tells the story of New York’s mythic 1950s dance hall, and the worldwide mambo craze created by the club’s performing stars, like Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. A second film, also called American Sabor, features exclusive, highly illuminating interviews with stars of the Latin music scene, including salsa legends Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colón, virtuoso guitarist Carlos Santana, pop icon Herb Alpert, and the musicians who created San Antonio’s famed Westside Sound.

Guided listening stations allow visitors to listen closely to key artists and genres—from salsa and Santana to San Antonio rhythm and blues. Expert commentary identifies elements such as ethnic roots, rhythmic patterns, form, texture, instruments, vocal style, and lyrics.

The exhibition comes with a fully operational juke box so that visitors can dance to their favorite rhythms.