Collaborations between singers Willie Colón (left) and Héctor Lavoe (right) produced many salsa classics.
Latino Musicians in the U.S.
Throughout the history of the United States, Latino musicians have participated enthusiastically as musicians and listeners in U.S. genres like jazz, country and western, rock and roll, and punk while at the same time enjoying the music of their local communities or countries of origin.
Ritchie Valens has become one of the most familiar images of Latino youth in American popular music. Born Ricardo Valenzuela in greater Los Angeles in 1941, he is remembered especially for his 1958 rock 'n' roll version of a Mexican folk song, "La Bamba." Fewer people remember, though, that Valens’ biggest hit was a doo wop ballad called “Donna,” and that he played in a racially integrated band that included white, black, and Japanese American high school classmates. Valens was one of many young Chicanos who shaped the sound of American rock and roll in the 1950s and 1960s.
Around the same time, young Puerto Ricans in New York ("Nuyoricans"), including Ray Barretto, Richie Ray, and Joe Cuba, were mixing Caribbean and African American rhythms to create the Latin boogaloo and Latin soul. These styles brought together Latino and African American youth on the dance floor, and opened the gates for a flood of Latin Caribbean sounds into African American music, from Motown to disco. Caribbean sounds also became part of the language of rock and roll when Carlos Santana's soulful electric guitar brought them together with the blues, and popularized Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" for a national audience.read more
Multi-ethnic bands from the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and 1970s—including not only Santana, but also Tower of Power (led by Chicano saxophonist Emilio Castillo), and Sly and the Family Stone—inspired young Latinos in other places to engage in the national popular music scene with a new energy. After a visit to San Francisco in 1970, for example, Texas musician Jose Maria DeLeon Hernandez proclaimed a new pride in his Latin heritage by changing the name of his band from “Little Joe and the Latinnaires” to “Little Joe y La Familia.”
This multi-ethnic effervescence did not disappear with the fading of the 1960s’ counterculture. It continued in disco, which popularized Latino-style partner dancing for a new generation of Americans; in punk music, where Chicanos from East L.A., such as Los Illegals, made a national impact; in hip-hop, whose pioneers in the South Bronx included Puerto Ricans like DJ Charlie Chase and MC Rubie Dee, and which later proliferated in more explicitly Latino forms like reggaetón; and in musically diverse bands like Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli.
In these many realms, the energy and creativity of Latino youth have impacted the musical experiences of Americans generally.