Despite the melting pot of cultures, the U.S. and U.K. haven’t been that receptive to Latin music as one would hope–considering the influence of Caribbean music in pop culture. But imagine what the world would sound like without the likes of Sérgio Mendes, Merceditas Valdés or Juan de Marcos González and the Buena Vista Social Club?
Here are a few quality Latin pop stars and icons that, believe it or not, get a bum rap and possibly deserve more recognition for their contributions.
Known universally as the King Of Latin Music, Tito Puente’s unique percussion-heavy blend of Afro-Cuban jazz, mambo and salsa has placed him in a pantheon of song royalty the likes of Chuck Berry and Dizzy Gillespie, the latter of whom he worked with as a sideman. Fifty years in the recording studio and submerged the cacophony of NYC’s Spanish Harlem will do that to a man.
Must Listen to: Puente’s Dance Mania, which was added to the National Recording Registry in 2002.
Unfamiliar to many U.S. audiences, Gloria Trevi has been called the “Supreme Diva of Mexican Pop” by VHI and pegged as the “Madonna of Mexico” by Salon.com, but not because of her 20 million records sold. Her songs have also acted as vehicles for sociopolitical issues, with singles championing dialogue on violence against women, prostitution, destitution, drug trafficking and global hunger.
Must Listen to: Trevi’s bestselling Tu Ángel de la Guarda or her U.S. breakthrough, Me Siento Tan Sola.
Billboard magazine has called him “The King of Latin Pop” and “The King of Dance,” and criticisms aside, there is some truth to the sentiment. As of 2014, Enrique Iglesias holds the world record for producing 25 No. 1 Spanish-language singles on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks, and the “Bailamos” singer has 13 number-one songs on Billboard’s Dance charts, more than any other single male artist.
Must Listen to: Iglesias’s US breakout Escape; electropop jams Euphoria & Sex and Love.
Leaving iconic boy band Menudo, when Latin Prince Of Pop Ricky Martin released “Livin’ la Vida Loca” in the Spring of ’99, the heartthrob kicked off the millennial Latin pop explosion. Martin’s third record went on to become one of the best selling albums of all time with 22 million copies sold internationally. Since, he has become a Broadway regular, appearing as Che Guevara in “Evita” and is a renowned LGBT advocate.
Must Listen to: Ricky Martin, his eponymous fifth studio album, or the underrated Life.
For an artist who showed obvious talent, Ivy Queen—the Queen of Reggaeton—went unnoticed for five years before taking the U.S. urban radio by storm with her third studio album.
Must Listen to: Diva, Ivy Queen’s “nuclear” fusion of reggaetón, dancehall, hi-hop and bubble-gum pop.
Renown for his lush, silken tenor, Benny Moré has been called the greatest Cuban pop singer of all time, because he “colored and phrased with great expressivity.” Leading a big band Cuban orchestra, he is named one of the greatest interpreters of Cuban music, crafting songs in various genres like son montuno, mambo, guaracha and bolero.
Must Listen to: Moré’s Very Best Of: 40 Tracks provides a detailed go-to for new listeners.
Known as the Queen of Banda, the big voiced siren of Mexico, Jenny Rivera—who died in airplane crash—is mourned by many. Unapologetically Mexican, the brassy lady broke ground in a male-dominated genre and continues to inspire.
Must Listen to: Jenni, Rivera’s tenth studio album
Born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in Miami, Florida as a result of the Cuban Revolution, Gloria Estefan went on to become one of the best-selling artists of all-time. First, as the front woman for the groundbreaking Miami Sound Machine and then as a revolutionary solo artist alongside her husband, 19-time Grammy Award winning musician and producer, Emilio Estefan.
Must Listen to: Primitive Love & Let It Loose (Miami Sound Machine); Cuts Both Ways and Mi Tierra (solo).
The King of Latin Rock, Carlos Santana belongs in a special class of genius all of his own, like Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. The front man of legendary chicano rock group Santana, his unique mélange of blues rock, tejano, free jazz, jam band and psychedelica have turned the outfit into one of the world’s best-selling groups of all time.
Must Listen to: Santana (1969), Abraxas, Santana (1971), Caravanserai and Supernatural are considered landmarks in rock music.
Known as “El Cantante de los Cantantes” (The Singer of Singers), Puerto Rican salsa talent Hector Lavoe is attributed with commencing the salsa movement in 1975. He also is credited for influencing a generation of artists, like salsa icon Mark Anthony who played Lavoe in the 2007 biopic, El Cantante.
Must Listen to: For a class in salsa history, listen to La Voz and Comedia.
Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades is an icon throughout Latin America and Spain, and for good reason: He’s the closest thing to the amalgam of Paul Simon and Celia Cruz you’ll hear ever.
Must Listen to: Blades’ solid collaborations with Nuyorican musician Willie Colón Siembra and The Last Fight are some of the most innovative sounds you’ll hear in salsa.
The King of Guarachero (singers who can sing ultra-fast lyrics), Orlando Guerra—effectively called “Cascarita”—has become an icon because of his flamboyant style of dress and lithe eloquence in ad-lib, creating a style that became a standard in Cuban music.
Must Listen to: The tongue-twisting Pruebe y Compare.
When Google makes you a doodle on its homepage on the day of your birth, it’s kind of a big deal. But Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad, better known as Celia Cruz, is a big deal. Known as the “Queen of Salsa,” Cruz made Salsa and Cha-cha-cha accessible to the public, being one of the first to headline Carnegie Hall.
Must Listen to: Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa, La Negra Tiene Tumbao, and Regalo del Alma
The Etta James to Celia Cruz’s Aretha Franklin, La Lupe—The Queen of Latin Soul—has become a key player in generating appeal of Cuban music.
Must Listen to: The Best and A Lady & Her Music are easy-to-find compilation gems.
No one has polarized the Latin music world quite like Paulina Rubio. Love her or hate her, La Chica Dorada (The Golden Girl) of Latin Pop, is be considered the Britney Spears of Mexico and is known for her legendary feud with pop icon Thalia.
Must Listen to: Paulina, Border Girl, Ananda and Gran City Pop are considered undervalued Grade A pop on both sides of the Atlantic.
Married to Mariah Carey’s first husband Tommy Mottola, Thalia is by all means the Prom Queen of Latin Pop music. With over 25 years in music, she has sold over 40 million records worldwide, and is considered the most successful female solo Mexican singer, influencing the likes of another up and coming diva, Belinda Peregrín.
Must Listen to: Her sixth album, Arrasando made Thalia into an overnight international pop star.
Dubbed “The Queen of Tejano music,” and later the Mexican Madonna, is an honor in itself. But after Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was murder at 23 by Yolanda Saldívar, the former president of her fan club, the sales of her work have skyrocketed: The heartbreaking Dreaming of You
, became the first solo artist to debut a posthumous album at No. 1 in the U.S. Her biopic Selena
also paved the way for rising star, Jennifer Lopez.
Must Listen to: For classic Tejano, look no further than the infectious breakout Entre a Mi Mundo, the astral-bodied Selena Live!, and the exqusite Amor Prohibido.
Compared to screen legend Elizabeth Taylor for her failed romantic relationships, stylista and global pop icon Jennifer Lopez (also known as J.Lo) has helped break down racial barriers in the entertainment industry. Not only is she one of the richest entertainers, she is credited as one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood and is listed as one of the best dancers in pop.
Must Listen to: For atomic dance magic, tune into On the 6. For aughts fist-pumping madness lend your ear to J.Lo.
As beautiful as she is talented, Shakira is by far one of the most musically diverse divas in pop and rock across the globe. Her fan base? In March 2014, Shakira was reported to be the most followed celebrity on Facebook, with over 86 million “Likes.” With a catalogue of innovative sounds, she also holds has a collective 1 billion views on Youtube.
Must Listen to: Bite off more than you can chew with Oral Fixation (Vo1. I & II), kick out the jams with MTV Unplugged, come clean with Laundry Service, howl at the moon with She Wolf or feel sunny with Sale el Sol.