The Latin Sound: How the Rumble became a Roar

When I visited the US as a little kid the only Latinos famous there (now “here” to me), were Desi Arnaz and Rita Moreno. Like many people I recognized him from “I Love Lucy” on TV, which was “Yo Quiero a Luci” in Colombia on Friday nights (boy were we surprised to find out Americans watched what we thought was a “Colombian” program!).  But Desi Arnaz was a famous bandleader in Cuba before he married Lucille Ball, before I was born, his conga “Babalu” was well known.i-love-lucy

A lot of Latin music, especially from the Caribbean incorporates an African beat; the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz personified this. She recorded many gold albums with the celebrated bandleader Tito Puente in the ‘60’s.Going farther back to the 1930s, dance halls in New York City embraced the sound of big band Cuban music – the salsa cha-cha and rumba. By 1950 mambo was all the rage and Tito Rodríguez, Tito Puente, and Machito were among the early bandleaders.




Then Rita Moreno starred in West Side Story and went on to win an Academy Award.  Moreno had no one to emulate, but famous American Latinas today, such as Jennifer Lopez, credit her as their role model.

The “unsung” singers: Latino music appeared to disappear in the 60s but in fact the artists were merely camouflaged under English names. Ritchie Valens (born Richard Valenzuela) hit it big with “La Bamba; (He died along with Buddy Holly in plane crash; he was only 17 years old, but is remembered especially for the song.) cover170x170

Sam the Sham’s real name was Domingo Samudio – here he is singing “Wooly Bully” :; Rudy Martinez sang “96 Tears” with a Latino band – the children of migrant farm workers; “Wasted Days and Wasted nightshtps://       was performed by Freddie Fender aka B. Garza Huerta.  (For some reason this was first a big hit in New Zealand in the 70’s!).  The list goes on.

And then Jose Feliciano, a Puerto Rican who refused to change his name, appeared.  I loved his rendering of the Doors’ “Light My Fire”  before I knew who the Doors were. That song shot him into mainstream pop fame. j-feliciano

Next on the scene was Carlos Santana.  When I came to college in the States I was pleasantly surprised to find Americans listened to Santana, because I assumed he was a Costa Rican I’d been listening to there! In fact he is a “Chicano” from L.A.

Okay so maybe you weren’t alive in the 60s …or the 70’s – you may not know the songs much less the names of these artists.  If you want to hear the music click on one of their songs above – betcha’ you’ve heard it before.

Since the second half of the 20th century a number of artists popularized the romantic Latin ballads, such as Julio Iglesias, his son Enrique Iglesias, Selena, Marc Anthony (Marco Antonio) and Cristian Castro. In the latter half of the 20th century, with immigration from South America and the Caribbean increasing every decade, Latino sounds influenced popular music from jazz, rock, rhythm to blues.



 Puerto Rican Ricky (Enrique) Martin hit fame with “Livin’ La Vida Loca“; Cuban icon Gloria Estefan fused pop with Cuban music starting with “Conga.”


Gloria Estefan

Top of the charts Jennifer Lopez, became a pop diva and then an actress (first playing Selena)… but there are too many Latino actors to name…

I’d have to start with Cantinflas and we’d be here all day! images

(And I already have to apologize to all the Latino artists I have failed to mention in this limited space.)  Viva la Musica!

Did I leave out someone you liked?  I love your comments. Please leave one below.


7 thoughts on “The Latin Sound: How the Rumble became a Roar

  1. Hi Cinda,
    I thought Santana was born in Sinaloa, grew up in TJ and then made his way to SF via LA. But you know, I could be very wrong. ” El Reloj” brings back pleasant memories, the original version was a “bolero” with a trio whose name I’ve forgotten, came out in the late 50s and stayed in the charts for years. Many people have recorded it over the years, but in my opinion the original version is the best. I liked it a lot (a maid we had would sing it as she cooked).


  2. Hi Cinda! Hope you’re well. Let us not forget Chano Pozo from Cuba. He was a key influence on trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie and served as the first Latin percussionist in Gillespie’s band.


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