The Musical Styles of San Francisco

San Francisco, like L.A. and San Antonio, is a major southwestern American city with a multicultural identity greatly influenced by its Spanish and Mexican history. The musical styles highlighted by American Sabor of the city's Latinos all reflect this dual heritage: the Latin cultural foundation fused with the characteristics of a modern American metropolis.

The corrido*, a unique reconsideration of the Mexican narrative song form, is the most traditional of San Francisco's musical genres. Although mambo is a genre most closely associated with New York City, many musicians traveled between the two cities, creating an environment for the Bay Area to develop its own rich mambo scene in the mid-20th century. Also influential in the Latin jazz movement, San Francisco offered up famous vibraphonist Cal Tjader, who introduced a more Caribbean-based style in the 1950s. As an important political axis for Mexican Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s with César Chávez leading the Farm Worker's Movement in California, San Francisco soon became a hub for protest and political music in the 1960s.

Although a significant contributor to many established genres of music, San Francisco is most known as the undisputed mecca of one genre in particular: Latin rock. Home to guitar-master Carlos Santana who burst onto the American popular music scene at the Woodstock music festival in 1969, San Francisco is where this distinctive sound - a blend of African American blues and Latin American rhythm - was born. Santana and other famous Bay Area groups like Tower of Power, Azteca, and Malo helped define the genre and gain international attention for this new style of music, still widely popular today.

While none of these genres of popular Latino music are exclusive to the city, artists from the San Francisco music scene certainly had a style and attitude all their own. Discover the unique history of Latino music in San Francisco by looking at some of the most prevalent styles of the city.

*More information about Corridos can be found at A site developed by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.