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Selena, Shakira, Santana & More: The 100 Year History of Latin Music in the United States

First Posted: Jan 03, 2014 04:15 PM EST
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Latin music genres, with their varied influences from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, were sewn, crafted and mended using unique rhythms and tribal beats. Those sounds made their way from their places of national origin to the United States, keeping with tradition, but gaining bits of modernity throughout time. The history of popular Latin music in the United States began in the early 1900s; Argentina, Cuba, Spain, the Dominican Republic and other countries have lending their musical traditions to the United States.

Argentina's working class invented the new rhythm, tango -- derivative of African slave drums and the music of the Cuban habanera. The music, and the ensuing dance, arrived in the U.S. in the 1910s, displacing The Viennese waltz and the Polka as America's choice close-contact dance, due to its erotic nature. Son is one of Cuba's contributions to the Latin American music scene, which is a fusion of Spanish pop music and African rhythm rumba. Puerto Rico's the Bomba was integrated during the 1960s. Continually popular were the Spanish-style Samba, Paso Doble, and the Conga. Mexico introduced Mariachi music and Ranchera. In the early and mid-1900s, dance-friendly Latin music drove the success of Carmen Miranda, Desi Arnaz, and Perez Prado's careers, as they chased rhythm when performing on stage.

The 1970s and 1980s Latinos contribution to the American music scene revved up. Herman Sanitgo and Jose Feliciano entered the American music scene, creating the lyrics to songs "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" and "Feliz Navidad." Tex-Mex and Tejano styles appeared, which drew out dozens of Latino artists, many who played everything from Latin soul to country music. Carlos Santana emerged during the peak of the rock and roll era with his impressive guitar-strumming, and Joe King Carrasco materialized, playing Latin punk rock.

The 1990s showed the true talent of Latin artists. The late singer-songwriter Selena appeared, becoming the "Best selling Latin artist of the '90s." During her short career, she produced fourteen top-ten singles, and became one of the most iconic artists in Latin American music history. Top-grossing Spanish-Language albums by Luis Miguel, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin became true competitors for English-language artists of the same caliber. The "Latin Invasion" also introduced mega-star Jennifer Lopez, who was praised for her portrayal of Selena in the film of the same name, and for her exceptional dancing and singing abilities. And, ex-husband to Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony performed and drew audiences to their feet throughout the decade.

Shakira, the best-sold Latin artist of all time, rose as one of most successful crossover of all time, and released her first English album, Laundry Service and number of other chart toppers. Latin artists did not only peak at this time, but English-language artists (Christina Aguilera, 98 Degrees and Geri Halliwell) also borrowed Latin elements and sang in Spanish. Portuguese-Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado sang portions and entire songs in Portuguese on her successful album Whoa, Nelly!, and she release later a Spanish-language album, entitled Mi Plan.

Reggaeton (originated in Panama, Puerto Rico and Cuba) found its popularity in the 2000s. Daddy Yankee, Pitbull, Ivy Queen, Nina Skye and Calle 13 were some of the greatest successes of that genre. At the same time, stars that had been recognizable throughout the 90s began to find international acclaim. Jerry Garcia, Gloria Estefan, Fergie, Kat DeLuna and many others rose due the blossoming interest in Latin American style and esthetic.

The 2000s also brought on the Latin Grammy Awards, used to honor outstanding Latino artists of every influence and every national origin.  Hispanics movement through fusion genres, subgenres and regional scenes showcased its growth in the United States in just a little over 100 years. In that time, what has remained the same is an inclination toward danceable beats, and a fondness for drums and guitar. And, what has most changed is non-Latinos' perception of Latin music, as they've recognized its universal appeal.   

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