Hispanic Heritage Month: each autumn people in the United States celebrate histories, lives, and cultures of those whose families and ancestors are from from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
One way to celebrate such contributions is through music. Latinx and Hispanic artists have worked, and still do, in every genre of music. Some of the artists I mention here may be familiar, others perhaps not known to you. Each has a particular point of view and way of creating music.
Hispanic Heritage Month is one of the good times to find out about their music.
Tish Hinojosa grew up in San Antonio, the daughter of parents who’d come from Mexico. Influenced as much by listening to Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt as by Mexican music her parents enjoyed. Hinojosa created her own brand of thoughtful folk and country songwriting and singing.
As she continues with her solo work, Hinojosa has also joined forces with two artists who themselves have strong solo careers .Stephanie Urbina Jones and Patricia Vonne.
Together the three are the Texicana Mamas. Drawing on a Texan fusion of Americana, country, folk, and Mexican styles from corrido to mariachi, they add to the ever changing sound of Hispanic music.
Fellow Texan Rick Trevino made his mark in country music, recording in both English and Spanish. He’s known for country rock and romantic ballads in both languages.
Trevino has also been part of Los Super Seven, a Grammy winning ensemble of Latino musicians including Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez (a master player you’ll see accompanying Trevino in this video; he also backed Hinojosa on By the Rio Grande), Raul Malo, and others.
Sol y Canto is the award winning Boston area based duo of singer Rosi Amador, whose background is Puerto Rican and Argentinian, and New Mexican /Spanish guitarist and composer Brian Amador.
Brian’s original music drawing on a range of Latin sources is a mainstay of their work, as are their versions of popular songs from across Latin cultures. Their daughter Alisa, who sings with them in on this song, has her own rising career as a singer and songwriter as well.
Gloria Estefan, born in Cuba and growing up in the melting pot (or salad bowl, if you prefer than metaphor) of cultures in Miami, broke down many barriers for Latinx artists with her blend of tropical rhythms and music people could dance to. First with Miami Sound Machine and later with Gloria’s solo work, she and her husband Emilio created top charting, Grammy winning music in both English and Spanish, bringing tropical flavor to mainstream pop with hits such as this one, which was released in both English and Spanish:
In 2019 Gloria and Emilo Estefan were honored with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress which “celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding.” Their daughter, Emily, is forging her own jazz and r&b influenced career as a singer and drummer, as well.
As Gloria Estefan’s career matured, music business folk began looking for an artist who could break out in a similar way to both Hispanic and English listeners. Selena Quintanilla Perez had been building devoted audiences in her native Texas and across the border in Mexico as well.
Growing up in Texas speaking English, building a career in Spanish song, with an engaging personality, skill as songwriter, a solid family based band, a Grammy, and many Tejano Music Awards, she seemed a likely choice.
Her album Dreaming of You was intended to begin that crossover journey, with half the songs in English and half in Spanish. It was, in fact, very successful, but Selena was not around to enjoy it. During an argument over finances, she was shot to death by her fan club president.
In 2021, the Recording Academy (the organization which presents the Grammy Awards) honored Selena with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Academy says such an award “celebrates performers who have made outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording.”
Joan Baez became a leading light of folk music in the 1960s, when she at times felt the sting of discrimination because of her Hispanic features. In her 80s at this writing,
Baez is still going strong as a musician and an activist for social justice. She has honored her Hispanic background in a number of ways across her career, including, on her debut album, this song
There are, of course, many more artists from all corners of Hispanic heritage, active now and in the past, working in every field of music from classical to hip hop.
May learning about the music of these artists inspire you to further exploration during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond.
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