Latin Music history 101

If you enjoyed the Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East L.A. special on PBS I blogged about in early December, then you’ll love Latin Music USA, which premieres tonight. The four-hour documentary traces the history of mambo, salsa, and other Latin genres, along with their oft-overlooked impact on American pop music through the decades. Latin music legends from all eras pop up throughout—Gloria Estefan, Willie Colon, Daddy Yankee, Carlos Santana, Ricky Martin and Juanes, to name a few. So if you’re a homebody during the winter, tune in. If not, and you have somewhere to be tonight, Tivo it. But don’t miss it. Guaranteed you’ll learn some new stuff. Come to think of it, how cool would it be if this were a required course in every college across the U.S.? Until then, there’s always PBS.

The two-part event is broken down as follows:

Wednesday, January 21 (9:00pm-11:00pm EST)
• Program One: The rise of Latin jazz and the explosion of mambo and cha cha chá as they sweep the US from East to West. Latin music infiltrates R&B and rock n’ roll through the 1960s.
• Program Two: Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in New York reinvent the Cuban son and the Puerto Rican plena, adding elements from soul and jazz to create salsa.

Wednesday, January 28 (9:00pm-11:00pm EST)
• Program Three: In California and across the Southwest, a new generation of Mexican Americans, raised on rock, rhythm and blues surrounded by country and western music reaffirm their cultural identity in Tejano, Chicano, and Latin rock.
• Program Four: The last program in the series looks at the Latin pop explosion of the turn of the century, focusing on the success of artists like Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and Shakira in the English-language market in the context of an increasingly Latinized US. As studios focus on star-driven pop, Latino youth gravitates toward urban fusions—Spanish rap and reggaeton—while rising numbers of Latinos entering the US create new markets for Mexican regional music and rock en español.

Check for local listings at