Celebrating Hispanic Musicians

By: Pamela Stern

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Spring Creek Sun would like to spotlight some famous Hispanic musicians for their contributions and accolades. Here are some Hispanic musicians who influenced the industry and led the way for today’s artists.

Desi Arnaz was born, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Arnaz is a Cuban born actor and musician (percussionist and bandleader).  After working briefly for Xavier Cugat in New York, Arnaz returned to Miami to lead a band and introduce the Conga Line to American audiences. It was such a hit, that Arnaz returned to New York to start his own band. He was offered a role in the 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls and later starred in Hollywood’s film version, where he met his future wife, Lucille Ball. They were married in 1940. Arnaz made three films before being drafted into the Army during WWII. During his two years in the service, he was responsible for entertaining the troops. He formed a new orchestra after being discharged and recorded several hits and later served as orchestra leader on Bob Hope’s radio show from 1946 to 1947. In 1949, Arnaz developed the hit television series I Love Lucy, which ran for six years. I Love Lucy became the No. 1 show in the country for four of its six seasons.

Ernesto Antonio “Tito” Puente was an American musician, songwriter and record producer. He is a native Puerto Rican lived in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, Puente is often credited as “The Musical Pope”, “El Rey de los Timbales” (The King of the Timbales) and “The King of Latin Music”. He is best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions that endured over a 50-year career. He and his music appear in many films such as The Mambo Kings and Fernando Trueba’s Calle 54. He guest-starred on several television shows, including Sesame Street and The Simpsons. His most famous song is “Oye Como Va.”

Carlos Augusto Alves Santana was born in Autlan de Navarro, in Mexico. In the 60s, he was influenced by the music of B.B King and was introduced to a variety of musical styles. Carlos Santana’s name has become synonymous with some of the most important genres of music today – jazz, Latin, salsa, blues and rock. Santana was taught the significance of music and how it brought together cultures, religions, and people from around the world. He is a famous guitarist, musician, singer and bandleader, who helped form the concept of ‘world music’ by his experimentations with mixing many styles of music from a host of cultures. His career took off after the legendary performance at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival.

Richard Steven Valenzuela was known professionally as Ritchie Valens, was an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Valens was born in Pacoima, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. His parents were from Mexico. Valens was a rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement.

Valens had several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which was adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement. He also had an American number 2 hit with ”Donna”.

On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as “The Day the Music Died”, Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa, an accident that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as pilot Roger Peterson. In 2001, Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso known as Celia Cruz, was a Cuban singer and one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Cruz rose to fame in Cuba during the 1950s as a singer of guarachas, earning the nickname “La Guarachera de Cuba”. In the following decades, she became known internationally as the “Queen of Salsa” or “The Queen of Latin Music” due to her contributions to Latin music in the United States. Cruz mastered a wide variety of Afro-Cuban music styles including guaracha, rumba, afro, son and bolero, recording numerous singles in these styles for Seeco Records.

Gloria Estefan was born, Gloria María Milagrosa Fajardo García and is a Cuban American singer, songwriter, actress and businesswoman. Estefan was born in Havana, Cuba. She started her career as the lead singer in the group Miami Latin Boys, which later became known as Miami Sound Machine. Estefan became romantically involved with the Miami Sound Machine’s bandleader, Emilio Estefan.

In 2018, Estefan became the first Cuban American to be named as one of the Kennedy Center Honors. On March 14, 2019, Estefan and her husband were awarded with the 2019 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. They are the first married couple and first of Hispanic descent to receive the Gershwin Prize.

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known as Selena was an American singer, songwriter, spokesperson, model, actress, and fashion designer. She was referred to as the “Queen of Tejano music”, her contributions to music and fashion made her one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers of the late 20th century.

Billboard magazine named her the top-selling Latin artist of the 1990s decade, while her posthumous collaboration with MAC cosmetics became the best-selling celebrity collection in cosmetics history.  Media outlets called her the “Tejano Madonna” for her clothing choices. She also ranks among the most influential Latin artists of all time and is credited for catapulting a music genre into the mainstream market. Selena was shot and killed on March 31, 1995, 16 days before her 24th birthday, by Yolanda Saldívar, her friend and the former manager of her Selena Etc. boutiques.

Jennifer Lynn Lopez, also known by her nickname J.Lo, was born in the Bronx borough of New York City, to Puerto Rican parents. She is an American actress, singer, dancer, fashion designer, producer, and businesswoman. In 1991, Lopez began appearing as a Fly Girl dancer on In Living Color, where she remained a regular until she decided to pursue an acting career in 1993.

Her first leading role was in the 1997 movie, Selena, where Lopez became the first Latin actress to earn over $1 million for a film. She went on to star in other feature films. Lopez ventured into the music industry with her debut studio album On the 6 (1999), which helped propel the Latin pop movement in American music. In 2018, Lopez received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, making her the first Latin performer to claim the prize since its introduction in 1984.