Contact Us

Nuestras Américas An Exploration of Expressive Cultures in Latina and Latino America

1940s and 1950s Music Expression

New forms of Latino music emerged following the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Movements of people across the country led to new communities being created during and following the World War II era. The zoot suit emerged as an emblem of proud display and resistance among many youths. In June 1943, young men of Mexican origin wearing zoot suits were attacked by off-duty sailors and marines, while the police stood by idly or arrested the victims of what became known as the Zoot Suit riots. Solidarity during the war and prosperity following the war helped shape a new appreciation for Latino music in the mainstream. The mambo became especially popular in dance halls and on the pop charts.

Latino music creators included the legendary Lalo Guerrero, who composed and performed in a wide range of genres including swing, boogie woogie, jitterbug, rhythm and blues, and Afro-Cuban jazz. His pop ballads were very popular, as well as his children’s songs. He was a passionate interpreter and supporter of struggles for workers’ rights and civil rights. He became well known as well for his parody songs that changed the lyrics of English-language pop songs to reflect Latino realities.

Zoot Suit
Lalo Guerrero's Chucos Suaves

Don Tosti recorded the “Pachuco Boogie” in 1948, a song that blended swing and rhythm and blues in celebrating the style and speech of the zoot suiters. Adelina García, called the “Queen of the Mexican Bolero,” became famous as a young singer of bolero music and captivated audiences in both hemispheres. Pérez Prado was a Cuban musician, bandleader, and arranger who moved to Mexico and became an international sensation in popularizing the mambo.