In the late 1950s and 1960s, young musicians from Puerto Rico and New York introduced new genres and instruments into the repertoire of Latin dance music. Innovators included Cortijo y su Combo, who in the 1950s integrated Afro-Puerto Rican bomba and plena rhythms into a modern dance band format. In the early 1960s in New York, pianist Eddie Palmieri created a new sound with his band, La Perfecta, modeled on a Cuban charanga ensemble, but with trombones instead of violins. Palmieri’s exciting arrangements and extended instrumental improvisations caught the attention of both dancers and listeners.
The more streetwise sound of Willie Colón, and his gangster-themed album titles like El Malo (The Bad One) and La Gran Fuga (The Big Break), fired the imagination of young Latinos raised in economically deprived ghettos. Colón integrated diverse styles and rhythms into an Afro-Caribbean format and his talented singers—first, Héctor Lavoe and, later, Rubén Blades—became icons of a new style that was dubbed “salsa.”
Salsa was promoted especially by the FANIA record label, founded in 1964 by Italian American lawyer Jerry Masucci and Dominican musical director Johnny Pacheco. The music’s popularity spread internationally with the 1971 film Our Latin Thing, which featured footage of the FANIA All-Stars, including Celia Cruz, the "Queen of Salsa," performing at the Cheetah nightclub in New York. Both the movie and the music spoke to a changing and difficult urban experience shared throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As salsa spread and took on diverse local flavors, it was embraced by many people not just as an exciting dance music but also as a powerful expression of Latino identity and solidarity.