Latin American music in the United States
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For an early example (1914), the bridge to "St. Louis Blues"--"Saint Louie woman, with her diamond rings"—has a habanera beat, prompting Jelly Roll Morton to comment, "You've got to have that Spanish tinge". Many an American band has added a conga player, maracas, or other Latin percussion for just that reason.
The Argentine tango was a worldwide success in the 1930s. Tango dancers and records could be found from Los Angeles to Beijing. In more recent times, artists such as Carmen Miranda, Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat, and Pérez Prado ("The Mambo King") were popular with audiences of all cultures. Judy Garland's first hit, as a member of the "Gumm Sisters", was "La Cucaracha", right down to the line about marijuana.
It was common in dance halls in the 30s and 40s for a Latin orchestra, such as that of Vincent López, to alternate with a big band because dancers insisted on it. Latin music was extremely popular with dancers, not only the samba, paso doble, rumba, and mambo, but even the conga. In the 50s, Perez Prado made the Cha-cha-cha famous, and the Afro-Cuban jazz of Dizzy Gillespie opened many ears to the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic possibilities of Latin music and is still influential in salsa.
Latin music imported from Cuba (chachachá, mambo, rumba) and Mexico (ranchera and mariachi) had brief periods of popularity during the 50s. The earliest popular Latin music in the United States came with rumba in the early 1930s, and was followed by calypso in the mid-40s, mambo in the late 40s and early 50s, chachachá and charanga in the mid-50s, bolero in the late 50s and finally boogaloo in the mid-60s, while Latin music mixed with jazz during the same period, resulting in Latin jazz and the bossa nova fusion cool jazz.
The first Mexican-Texan pop star was Lydia Mendoza, who began recording in 1934. It was not until the 40s, however, that musica norteña became popularized by female duets like Carmen y Laura and Las Hermanas Mendoza, who had a string of regional hits. The following decade saw the rise of Chelo Silva, known as the "Queen of the (Mexican) Bolero", who sang romantic pop songs.
The 50s saw further innovation in the Mexican-Texan community, as electric guitars, drums and elements of rock and jazz were added to conjunto. Valeria Longoria was the first major performer of conjunto, known for introducing Colombian cumbia and Mexican ranchera to conjunto bands. Later, Tony de la Rosa modernized the conjunto big bands by adding electric guitars, amplified bajo sexton and a drum kit and slowing down the frenetic dance rhythms of the style. In the mid-1950s, bandleader Isidro Lopez used accordion in his band, thus beginning the evolution of Tejano music. The rock-influenced Little Joe was the first major star of this scene.
The "Spanish tinge" was also a common feature of rhythm and blues in the 50s. The monster hit "Little Darling" was driven by the clave beat and Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" was a great success. Ritchie Valens, born Ricardo Valenzuela, blew the roof off the hit parade with "La Bamba", originally a Mexican wedding song.
Likewise, Tex-Mex and Tejano style featured the conjunto sound, resulting in such important music as "Tequila" by The Champs, "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Thee Midniters, and the many combinations led by Doug Sahm, including the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornadoes. The Texas Tornadoes featured Freddy Fender, who brought Latin soul to country music. And the Tornadoes' Flaco Jiménez is a genuine conjunto hero, a third-generation accordionist whose grandfather learned the instrument from German settlers in Texas. Johnny Rodriguez is another Latin country star.
Herman Santiago wrote the lyrics to the iconic rock and roll song "Why Do Fools Fall in Love". Another song which became popular in the United States and which is heard during the Holiday/Christmas season is "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano.
During the second part of the decade of the 1990s, Latin music gained interest into the mainstream only after the untimely death of the popular Tex Mex singer Selena. And today's music of Tejano have carried to other artists.
By the mid-nineties sales of Spanish language albums in the US by such acts as Luis Miguel, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin had increased to compete with English language acts. To reflect the growing interest in Latin acts the American Music Awards institituted a category for Latin recording artists.
Ricky Martin's performance of the Spanglish version of "La Copa de la Vida" at the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999 earned him a standing ovation and much press attention. Sony Music quickly released Martin's first ever English album. The first single "Livin' la Vida Loca" contained many Latin music elements and became a smash #1 single.
Martin was seen as the forerunner of a trend in pop music of using Latin tropes which the press dubbed a "Latin Pop explosion" or "Latin Invasion". Martin's labelmate Jennifer Lopez who won acclaim as an actress with her breakthrough role as Selena in the biographical movie of the same name released her debut album which too contained some Latin elements. Lopez's future husband Marc Anthony who had long been recording in Spanish in seized the opportunity of recording an English album Latin and salsa elememts.
Pop singer Enrique Iglesias who like Martin and Anthony had been a star of the Latin charts had been planning an English language career. After seeing one of his concerts Will Smith asked Iglesias to contribute to soundtrack of the Wild, Wild, West. The pop song "Bailamos" was a then departure for the singer as it used Spanish guitar and a flamenco sounds became a #1 smash hit. A similar production would remain throughout most of Iglesias's first English album which he released later in the year.
Even Anglophone acts such as Geri Halliwell, 98 Degrees, and Christina Aguilera incorporated Latin elements into some of their hits. The trend reached its peak in 2000 with the launch of first annual Latin Grammy Award show and introduction of the "Los Discos de Oro y Platino" by the RIAA.
Though the trend faded it did not stop Latinos from having hits in the mainstream market. Iglesias scored an even more successful era in 2001 with the pop album Escape and Colombian singer Shakira also scored a successful crossover with her first English album Laundry Service.
Contemporary Latin Music
Today Latin music has become a term for music performed by Latinos regardless of whether it has a Latin element or not. Acts such as Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull are prominent on the pop charts. Iglesias who holds the record for most #1s on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks released a bilingual album, inspired by urban acts he releases two completely different songs to Latin and pop formats at the same time. Mainstream artists and producers tend to feature more on songs from Latin artists and it's also become more likely that English language songs crossover to Spanish radio and vice versa.
There are many Latin and Hispanic American musicians that have achieved international fame, such as Jennifer López, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, Zack de la Rocha, Fergie, Gloria Estefan, Kat DeLuna, Selena, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Carlos Santana, Christina Aguilera, Los Lonely Boys, Frankie J, Jerry García, Robert Trujillo, Aventura and Tom Araya.
The most prestigious Latin music awards are the Latin Grammy Awards, launched in 2000. Billboard Magazine also honors these artists, with the Billboard Latin Music Awards. The latter's nominees and winners are a result of performance on Billboard's sales and radio charts, while the Latin Grammy Awards nominees and winners are selected by the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (LARAS).