Courtesy of The
Museum of the City of New York, and Raices Latin Music Museum
Chano Pozo (1915-1948)
Photograph by Harry Fine
Courtesy Raices Latin Music Museum
Raices: The Roots of Latin
October 5, 2002 - February 16, 2003
The history of the Latin popular music known worldwide as salsa began
centuries ago in the islands of the Spanish Caribbean, in a context of
slavery and colonialism. Yet, it is inextricably tied to twentieth-century New
York City and the growth of a thriving Latino
community here. Its distinctive polyrhythms and
vocal and instrumental call-and-response identify the Afro-Caribbean roots
of Latin music—traditional and contemporary, sacred and secular. Ráices: The Roots of Latin Music in New York
City explores the evolution of this exuberant cultural phenomenon.
“en el tiempo de la colonia”
The Colonial Era
Mialhe (1810-1881), Día de Reyes (La Habana).
Lithograph, from Viaje
pintoresco Alrededor de la Isla de Cuba (1848).
The story of Latin popular music reveals the triumph of the human spirit
over the crushing forces of slavery and colonialism. For centuries, men,
women, and children from West and Central Africa–the
lands of the great nations of the Yoruba, Efik,
and Bantu peoples, among others–were brought in chains to Cuba,
Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola
(now the Dominican Republic
Thrown into encounters with diverse and heretofore unknown African,
European, and indigenous peoples and cultures, they carved out ways to
ensure their own survival and that of their cultural expressions. Though
plantation life was harsh under Spanish rule, it allowed for the
establishment of sacred and secular cultural institutions, such as religious
houses and brotherhoods, in which tradition could be maintained and adapted
and new traditions created. Cimarron (escaped
slave) communities also provided a context for the preservation of
traditional musical forms.
African and Caribbean percussion instruments.
Top from left: Apinti Drum,
undated, West African, Chekere, undated, Cuba, Tumbadora.
Bottom, on stand from left: Guira, Guro.
Courtesy Raices Latin Music Museum.
By the late nineteenth century, slavery had come to an end throughout
the Caribbean region. The euphoria of freedom soon
gave way to the reality of making a new life in the midst of economic and
political upheaval. The Spanish-American War of 1898 resulted in the end of
Spanish colonial rule and the emergence of the United
States as the dominant imperial power in
the region. With the transformation of plantation economies into
agribusinesses, displaced agricultural workers migrated from countryside
into town, and from island to island. Blacks, whites, and criollos arrived in Havana,
bringing the rhythms of rumba and changüí.
To San Juan they brought bomba and seis;
and to Santo Domingo, merengue and carabiné.
Transplanted and transformed in the urban settings, these and other
sounds and styles were selectively brought to New York
City in successive migrations.
Guiro, undated, Cuba. Tumbadora
played by Miguelito Valdes (1916-1978), 1940s. Guijo (jawbone of an ass), undated, Cuba. All instumentsourtesy Raices Latin Music Museum
“el jibarito va, cantando así...”
New York City
James Reese Europe and his famous infantry "Hellfighters"
band, aboard the S.S. Stockholm, February, 1919. Courtesy of the
National Archives, Washington, D.C.
While Puerto Rican settlement in New York
began before 1898, migration increased once the island came under U.S.
control. The first Puerto Rican colonia
(neighborhood) developed in the area around the Brooklyn Navy Yard. By
1917, when the Jones Act made Puerto Ricans U.S.
citizens, East Harlem’s El Barrio had become
the colonia of choice for new arrivals.
An unforeseen result of citizenship was the earliest collaboration between
African-American and Puerto Rican musicians and the earliest documented
presence of Puerto Rican musicians in New York City,
brought about by James Reese Europe (1881-1919), founder of the first
booking agency for African-American musicians and director of the first
African-American band to play Carnegie Hall.
With the outbreak of World War I, Europe enlisted
in a black regiment of the New York National Guard. When asked to organize
“the best damn brass band in the United States Army,” Europe
traveled to Puerto Rico to audition Island
black musicians trained in municipal bands. The eighteen men he recruited
included Rafael Hernández (1891-1965), who was to
become one of Puerto Rico’s most famous and beloved
composers. Europe’s band (later known as the 369th
Infantry “Harlem Hellfighters” band) is credited
with introducing European audiences to jazz. Back in New
York City, its Puerto Rican members were the first
Latinos to record and perform with African-American jazz bands in the
city’s clubs and theater orchestras.
Other Island musicians and workers quickly
followed, as the interwar decades saw continued economic hardship in the Caribbean
and the rise of employment opportunities in New York
City. Latino communities in New
York supported dozens of Spanish-language
theaters, dance halls, nightclubs, social clubs, and music stores, all of
which fostered the development of a dynamic New York Latin music scene.
“el manicero canta su pregon...”
Latin Music Goes
Columbia Pictures, You Were Never
Lovelier, featuring Xavier Cugat, Lina Romay, Miguelito Valdes. Publicity still, 1942
From 1900 into the 1950s, popular stage, recording, film, and broadcast
media as well as Tin Pan Alley—the New York shorthand for publishers of
popular sheet music—responded to the vibrant energy of Latin music. The
introduction of the tango in stage and silent film productions in 1913 gave
rise to the popular image of the "Latin Lover." New
York publishers issued songs that became
standards, such as Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney” (1929).
Latin music and dance grew steadily in popularity during the interwar
period. American tourists who flocked to the hotels and casinos of Havana
in the 1920s heard a new music called son. In 1930, Don Azpiazu’s Havana Casino Orchestra played son and
other Cuban dance music at New York’s Palace Theater, and introduced the
classic “El manicero” (“The Peanut Vendor”),
which became a national hit. Under the generic name rumba, son
became a national social dance craze. Spanish-born, Havana-raised Xavier Cugat (1900-1990) and his orchestra opened the new Waldorf-Astoria
and became the hotel’s resident group, playing a mix of Latin and other
popular tunes there from 1932 to 1947, mellowed for a broader American
audience. The stage was set for the transition from son to salsa.
By the mid-1930s, American nightclubs were featuring the conga, a
Cuban carnival tradition, and many Broadway musicals included Latin
numbers. In 1939, two key Latino entertainers appeared on the New York
stage, Brazilian singer-dancer Carmen Miranda (1909-1955) singing “South
American Way” in the Abbott and Costello revue On the Streets of Paris,
and Cuban-born Desi Arnaz
(1917-1986) as a conga-playing football player in the Rodgers and Hart
musical Too Many Girls.
Cugat, Miranda, and Arnaz
were among the many Latino entertainers featured in Hollywood
musicals with “south of the border” themes during the 1940s. Teamed with
his wife Lucille Ball, Arnaz created the
long-running television comedy I Love Lucy. Featuring Arnaz’s character, New York-based Latin bandleader
Ricky Ricardo, the show brought Latino music into homes nationwide
beginning in 1951 and helped make mambo and cha-cha-cha the
dance crazes of the 1950s.
“I am u-bla-ba-du...”
LATIN + JAZZ = The New York Sound
Album cover, c. 1955, Courtesy of Raices Latin Music Museum
As El Rey Tito Puente (1923-2000) said,
Latin jazz is a marriage between Latin rhythms and jazz harmonies. The
connection that began with African-American and Puerto Rican members of
James Reese Europe’s military band went on to forge a true New
York sound. Seminal figures included Afro-Cubans
Alberto Socarrás, one of the first Cubans to play
in a jazz band, and Mario Bauzá, who played with
both Latin and jazz groups. Bauzá’s friendship
with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), which began when both played
trumpet in Cab Calloway’s band, profoundly influenced both jazz and Latin
music. In 1940, Bauzá and his brother-in-law
Frank “Machito” Grillo
(ca. 1909-1984) formed Machito and His
Afro-Cubans, the first group to incorporate African-American jazz
musicians, harmonies, and concepts into Latin music. In 1947-1948,
Gillespie collaborated with Cuban percussionist Chano
Pozo (1915-1948), marking the first genuine
synthesis of Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz.
Frank “Machito” Grillo,
Tito Puente at the Palladium,
circa 1950. Photo: Harry Fine
By 1952, New York’s
Palladium Ballroom at Broadway and 53rd Street
had become the American center for the mambo dance craze, followed
in 1954 by the cha-cha-cha. Created as an instrumental form in Cuba
by Orestes and Israel
(“Cachao”) López and Arsenio Rodríguez, mambo
was popularized in the United States
by Pérez Prado. Cha-cha-cha
was the invention of Enrique Jorrin as a form of
both dance and music. These dance forms brought “The Big Three”—Machito, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodríguez
And then they called it salsa
The musical excitement of the 1950s flowed into the 1960s. Alegre, the first Latino-owned record label to record
the “new” New York sound,
rose to prominence. Charanga dance
ensembles, with their distinctive string and flute sound, challenged the
popularity of the mambo bands. Spearheaded by Dominican-born flutist
Johnny Pacheco (b. 1935), pachanga became
a hot dance fad. Eddie Palmieri (b. 1936) with
Barry Rogers (1935-1991), Ray Barretto (b. 1929),
and Larry Harlow, developed innovative ensemble formats. Younger barrio
musicians such as Joe Cuba, Johnny Colón, and
Pete Rodriguez created Latin bugalú,
the first combination of rhythm and blues and Latin music. The Lebron Brothers, Willie Colón
(b. 1950), and Héctor LaVoe
(1946-1993) followed suit and moved into a hard-edged, urban sound.
Following the Cuban Revolution, the United
States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba
in 1961. This action cut off the flow of music and musicians that had
inspired the New York scene
for decades. Four years later, immigration policy changes opened the door
to migrations from previously excluded countries. Along with other
demographic shifts, these two events altered the course of Latin music in
ways that defined it even more sharply as a New York
phenomenon. By the late 1960s, the Dominican community had burgeoned, and
rhythms such as the Dominican merengue,
Colombian cumbia, and Puerto Rican plena and jíbaro
styles had become part of the New York Latin music scene.
Left: Rumba shirt, c. 1973, satin and
nylon net, worn by Sonny Bravo, founding member of Tipica
'73 En Cuba album cover (Fania
By the early 1970s, music once identified by specific forms and styles
was clustered together under the salsa rubric. The tag gained
commercial currency after Fania Records—the most
influential record label in the field—adopted it to describe the New
York music the label produced. The name may have
been new, but the sound of salsa is rooted in the rich mix of cultures,
races, and rhythms that is New York Latin music.
For Raíces Latin Music Museum:
Louis Bauzó, Curator
Roberta L. Singer, Ph.D., Exhibition Developer
Pleneros in Loíza
Aldea, Puerto Rico. Photo: Louis Bauzó, 1980
Raíces: The Roots of Latin Music
in New York City pays homage to the recognized pioneers and the
overlooked individuals whose vibrant music has left an indelible imprint on
American culture. Developed by the Raíces Latin
and curated by musician and folklorist Louis Bauzó with special tributes to Graciela Grillo Pérez, Miguelito Valdés, Vicentico Valdés, Angel Viloria, and José “Pin” Madera,
Raíces celebrates New
York City’s Latin music legacy.
For further reading:
Flores, Juan. From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto
Rican Culture and Latino Identity. New York:
Glasser, Ruth. My Music Is My Flag: Puerto
Rican Musicians and Their New York
Communities 1917-1940. Berkeley,
Los Angeles, London:
University of California
Manuel, Peter, with Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey. Caribbean
Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba
to Reggae. Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1995.
Roberts, John Storm. The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American
Music on the United States.
reprint: Tivoli, New York:
Original Music, 1985.
Courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York, and Raices Latin Music Museum
Virtual Exhibition | Site
Copyright © 2005 Smithsonian
Center for Latino Initiatives All rights reserved.