Latin American music in the United States
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Latin music has long influenced American popular music, jazz, rhythm and blues, and even country music. 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.
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.
During the second part of the decade of the 1990s, Latin music gained interest into the mainstream thanks to popular only after her 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 insitituted 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.
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.
See also